DENVER -- Leading up to tonight’s NCHC tilt between North Dakota and Denver, a prominent storyline through the week was the reunion of UND’s vaunted ‘CBS’ line with Hobey Baker candidates Drake Caggiula and Nick Schmaltz back from their injuries.
The No. 13 Pioneers, however, were waiting with a pretty terrific trio of their own.
Denver’s top line of Danton Heinen (2 goals, 3 assists), Trevor Moore (1 goal, 3 assists) and Dylan Gambrell (2 assists) took center stage in a 6-4 Pioneers win that snapped UND’s 5-game unbeaten streak.
It also delayed the Fighting Hawks’ hopes of clinching home ice for the NCHC Quarterfinals for at least one more night.
It wasn’t as if the ‘CBS’ unit of Caggiula, Schmaltz and freshman Brock Boeser didn’t do its part; the line combined for six points in its first game together in nearly a month. But uncharacteristic defensive breakdowns by UND made it an uphill climb for the visitors all night long, particularly in a wild third period in which the teams combined for five goals.
Twice tonight, the Fighting Hawks tied the game and also pulled within one goal on a third occasion late in the third, only to see the Pioneers answer each time.
“Every time we scored a goal, they had a response and that’s the sign of a good team,” UND head coach Brad Berry said of DU. “There was urgency on their behalf. We won those two games in Grand Forks (in December), and they remember that.”
UND opened the scoring on a goal by freshman defenseman Christian Wolanin early in the first period, but the Pioneers pulled even on a Grant Arnold deflection and took their first lead early in the second period on a Trevor goal.
The response by Denver established an ongoing theme for the night.
Troy Stecher tied the game 2-2 midway through the second period, converting a Schmaltz centering feed on an odd-man rush. But DU answered back just two minutes later when Moore slid a cross-ice feed to a wide-open Adam Plant at the side of the net.
It was more of the same in the third period.
Boeser received a backdoor feed from Stecher and buried his 19th of the year just 1:36 into the third period, but Heinen gave Denver the lead back with six minutes remaining after the Pioneers won a faceoff in the UND zone.
Quentin Shore made it a 5-3 game with a short-handed tally with 3:44 left in the third after he was left all alone in the slot.
Nick Schmaltz pulled UND back within one with a breakaway goal just 30 seconds later with goalie Cam Johnson pulled for an extra attacker. With Johnson once again on the bench in the game’s final two minutes, UND pressed furiously for the equalizer but missed on a handful of quality chances. Caggiula had the puck roll off his stick on a backdoor opportunity and Stecher rifled one high over the night from the high slot in the final minute.
Seconds later, Heinen sealed it with an empty-netter.
“The puck seemed to find its way into the net tonight for both teams. Any time you put four goals up on the board, you give yourself a chance to win,” said Stecher. “Every goal they scored was the result of our mistakes. We have to be aware of when their top line is on the ice. They exposed us and that’s happened three of the past four weeks. It’s becoming a trend and that’s unacceptable."
"We’ve got to cut that out of our game right now.”
Stecher also added that his head coach was not pleased with his team’s play away from the puck.
“At the end of the day, the team that closes down and clamps down and does a good job defensively wins games,” elaborated Berry. “I never question their compete level or their character or their drive, but we have to be sharper.”
Schmaltz said that finding a way to shut down the Heinen-Moore-Gambrell line will be an obvious emphasis on Saturday.
“We’ve just got to be hard on them. We can’t turn pucks over in critical areas because if you do, and you give those guys time and space, they’re going to make us pay,” said Schmaltz. “It was one of the fastest games we’ve played all year. One of the better opponents we’ve played, too.
“They’re a lot better than they were in Grand Forks.”
UND (22-4-3, 13-3-1-1 NCHC) and Denver (14-8-5, 10-5-2-0 NCHC) will drop the puck at 7:06 MT on Saturday.
Notes: UND went 1-4 on the power play and DU was 0-3. The Fighting Hawks have killed 17 straight opponent power plays over the last four games … Shots on goal were 45-31 in favor of UND … Heinen’s was the first 5-point game against UND since Minnesota Duluth’s Jack Connolly on Feb. 11, 2012, almost four years to the day.