The 2015-16 Denver Pioneers endured a bit of a bumpy ride en route to their auto-bid to the 2016 NCAA Tournament, ultimately finishing 23-9-6. The Pioneers dropped out of the picture for the national tournament after a sweep at the hands of NCHC foe St. Cloud State, but a strong second half pushed Denver to sixth in the PairWise rankings and a third place finish in the NCHC.
This strong second half was highlighted by sweeps of Nebraska-Omaha, Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota, as well as a sweep of Omaha in the first round of the NCHC playoffs, before dropping a 4-1 decision to St. Cloud State in game one of the NCHC Frozen Faceoff and tying North Dakota in the consolation game.
They’re victories over Boston University and Ferris State in the west regional propelled the Pioneers to their first Frozen Four since their national championship in 2005. They were to face North Dakota again, but this time, the Fighting Hawks got the better of Denver with a 4-2 win. It was Jordan Schmaltz’s goal with 57 seconds left that propelled North Dakota to the championship game. This was a change of pace for North Dakota, who lost a chance to play Union in the 2014 National Championship game on a goal Minnesota scored with just .6 seconds left in the third period.
While Schmaltz’s goal was ostensibly the reason Denver won’t be playing Quinnipiac on Saturday, it was the power play that ultimately doomed the Pioneers. Denver’s power play failed to score on four opportunities Saturday and this was a crucial in the game.
Given that Denver spent the majority of the game trailing, once Drake Caggiula gave North Dakota a 1-0 lead just 1:03 into the second period, a lead which they built on five minutes later with Caggiula’s second of the game, goals on the power play could have been important in providing Denver momentum and confidence.
However, North Dakota’s penalty kill stood tall and shut down the Denver power play, which ran significantly through their Pacific Rim line of Trevor Moore, Dylan Gambrell and Danton Heinen. Those three failed to appear on the scoresheet, the opposite of North Dakota’s top line of Brock Boeser, Caggiula and Schmaltz, who accounted for three of the four Fighting Hawks goals.
This 0-4 showing by the Denver power play was a shift from their regional performance, where they went 4-for-8 against BU and Ferris State. The power play had been clicking nicely to that point but it’s lack of production against the Fighting Hawks was ultimately the doom of Denver.
The 2015-16 season was a successful one for Denver — seeing them return to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2005 — but their power plays underperformance saw them fall short of a national championship.