Defensive miscues cost UND in series-opening loss to Denver
The Pioneers used two goals from Carter Mazur to beat the Fighting Hawks 5-3 in Magness Arena.
DENVER — UND hadn't played a game in front of its large alumni base in Denver in three-and-a-half years.
Those fans came back to Magness Arena in droves Friday night, just like they did pre-pandemic, and they got a lesson on why their favorite team is in a hole this season.
UND opened the game with an egregious turnover, it missed defensive zone coverages in the second period, UND coach Brad Berry was forced to yank his starting goalie for the fifth time this season and UND lost 5-3 to the Pioneers.
"We had enough opportunities to score enough goals to win," Berry said. "It was just that we gave up a few odd-numbered rushes and a couple of plays on our end of the rink, which gave them momentum. Any time you score three goals, you have a good chance to win. . . four goals, for sure. But you can't give up four or five goals and expect to win."
UND's explosive power play added two more goals Friday, but it wasn't enough to overcome the defensive shortcomings.
The Fighting Hawks dropped to 12-12-4 overall and 6-9-2 in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings, where they sit in sixth. No. 4 Denver, which appears en route to its third Penrose Cup, improved to 22-7 and 13-4.
The series finale is scheduled for 7 p.m. Central on Saturday in Magness Arena.
"All these games going forward here — these last seven games — are massive for us," UND alternate captain Ethan Frisch said. "So, it sucks to let one slip like this. We have to turn our attention to tomorrow. Tonight's gone. We have to build on what we can, fix what went wrong tonight and try to execute tomorrow better."
UND received an even-strength goal from Carson Albrecht and power-play goals from Frisch and Judd Caulfield.
Denver received a pair of goals from Carter Mazur and one each from Sean Behrens, Massimo Rizzo and Aidan Thompson.
The Fighting Hawks outshot the Pioneers 37-23, but Denver goalie Magnus Chrona stopped 34 of them while UND starter Drew DeRidder was yanked after allowing four goals on 11 shots.
"We had enough chances to win the game, but we've got to tighten up defensively," Caulfield said. "We gave up five goals off the rush. That just can't be happening. They're Grade-A shots from the slot. We've got to do a better job protecting the front of our net and not giving them those easy looks."
What happened on the goals?
"Let's just go through each and every one because I have them embedded in my mind right now," Berry said. "The first one was a turnover by our defenseman right on their tape, Grade-A opportunity. The next two were line rushes, but they were two against three, where they made these wide passes, where the D-men in front shaded over to our strong-side 'D' and it went right across.
"The last two goals were very similar, where a guy walked right through two of our guys in the middle of the ice untouched and scored the goals. Those situations, we've been better at. But tonight, for whatever reason, we were a little bit weak in that area."
After DeRidder turned in four strong games in a row, allowing just five goals in that span, he struggled to make a key save Friday.
UND's team save percentage dropped back to .877, which is dead last in college hockey.
Berry will now have to decide whether to go back to DeRidder in the series finale or turn to Jakob Hellsten, who stopped 11 of 12 shots in relief.
"We'll talk to the staff and our group here," Berry said. "It's a situation early in the game where you look at the shot clock and there aren't many shots up there and there's four goals. At the end of the day, you've got to try to save one or two of those."
Denver got on the board early, taking advantage of a turnover by UND defenseman Ty Farmer, who threw a pass up the middle of the ice in the defensive zone. It was picked off by Thompson, who walked in and sniped one at 2:52.
UND got the goal back at 7:30 of the first, taking advantage of a Denver turnover. Jackson Blake (two assists) and Albrecht forced the turnover and started a rush. Blake's attempt was stopped by Chrona, but Albrecht put home the rebound.
Denver pulled back ahead with 2:12 left in the first on a rush. Behrens, a defenseman, jumped in the play and found Mazur, who was open in space and buried his 18th of the season. UND challenged the play for offside, but the call on the ice stood.
UND evened it up again early in the second period, taking advantage of a power play. UND defenseman Chris Jandric made an excellent play to wheel around the right circle, drop below the goal line and find Frisch in the slot. Frisch buried it for his fourth goal of the season.
But things blew up on the Fighting Hawks soon after.
Denver scored twice in the 30 seconds following Frisch's goal to go up 4-2 after a pair of missed coverages in the defensive zone. Behrens scored the first one and one-time UND commit Massimo Rizzo got the second.
"Obviously, not a great response," Frisch said. "It happened before we even knew what happened. But we have to be mentally tougher than that. We know what we're doing, but not being engaged, sitting back, taking a breath after tying it up like that, we can't do that. Then, they shove it down our throats and it's 4-2 in a matter of 30 seconds afterwards.
"We can't do that. We can't sit back after tying a game like that. It's over. There's nothing we can do about it now."
UND pulled within a goal when Caulfield tipped a Tyler Kleven pass at 10:37 of the second, but that's as close as the Fighting Hawks got. Denver tacked on a goal at 4:53 of the third period for the final margin.
"We're disappointed, we're hugely disappointed tonight in the result and how it got there," Berry said. "Tomorrow we've got to turn the page. We've got to get tighter defensively and we have got to have a mindset of picking up a split here and then going home and playing four of the last six at home."
Notes: UND's healthy scratches on the trip were forward Jackson Kunz and defenseman Luke Bast. Center Jake Schmaltz (upper-body injury), forward Dane Montgomery (upper body), defenseman Brent Johnson and goalie Kaleb Johnson did not make the trip.