Bulldogs hang on to win Rocky Mountain barnburner, 6-5 over Denver

The Pioneers nearly rallied back from a three-goal deficit to start the third, but the second goal of the night for Ben Steeves and third power play goal for UMD was the difference.

Minnesota Duluth celebrates a goal on Friday during a 6-2 loss to Denver at Magness Arena in Denver.
Tyler Schank / File / Clarkson Creative via University of Denver Athletics

DENVER — Minnesota Duluth took a three-goal lead into the third period Saturday, and the Bulldogs needed every one of those goals and then some to pull off the upset of third-ranked and league-leading Denver.

The Pioneers stormed back in the third with three goals of their own, but the 19th goal of the season for freshman wing Ben Steeves proved to be the difference as the Bulldogs won a 6-5 barnburner in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains to split the NCHC series at Magness Arena.

“That was a lot of fun,” UMD junior defenseman Wyatt Kaiser said. “It was back and forth. I thought we played pretty solid defensively. They're very offensive and they're very good at it. It was a lot of fun tonight.”

UMD — which moved into sole possession of fifth place with the win while staying 10 points back of fourth-place St. Cloud State — got eight points from its freshman class as Steeves and Isaac Howard combined for five points alone, with Steeves scoring twice and Howard notching three assists.

The Bulldogs defensemen also had a strong offensive night, factoring into five of the team’s six goals and combining for seven points off two goals and five assists. Kaiser finished with four points off a goal and three assists.


“Our defensemen really stepped up tonight,” Steeves said. “I didn't think they played a bad game last night, but tonight they just took it to another level being able to get pucks through. Our first two goals were just shots from the point and finding pucks in front of the net. That's when our defensemen are at their best, when they have good gaps and get pucks through from the point. That's how we score goals.”

Trailing 5-2 going into the third period, Denver scored twice in the opening 1:43 of the period to cut UMD’s lead to one. Both sides combined for three goals in the opening minutes of the third as UMD went back up by two via Steeves' power play goal at 2:26. Sophomore center Massimo Rizzo once again made it a one-goal game by picking up his second goal of the third period at the 8:22 mark.

The Bulldogs' three-goal lead at the second intermission came via three goals on six shots in the second period. They also killed off their second major penalty of the night.

Kaiser, Steeves and freshman wing Luke Johnson all scored in the second period for UMD, with Johnson notching his first collegiate goal just 1:16 after Denver sophomore wing Jack Devine tied the game 74 seconds into the second period.

Steeves picked up his 18th goal of the season with 2:41 left before the intermission on a feed by freshman defenseman Joey Pierce. Kaiser put UMD ahead by three with 1:12 left in the second via a power play goal.

Denver replaced senior goaltender Magnus Chrona — a semifinalist for national goaltender of the year — during the second intermission, as Chrona finished with 13 saves on 18 shots.


“He didn't see a lot of the pucks, to be honest with you,” Kaiser said of beating Chrona on Saturday. “We had some really good screens, a few really nice shots, which is good. That's how we as a team should create offense. It's our identity — getting to the net, getting guys in front and keep shooting it.”

The Bulldogs led the Pioneers 2-1 after the opening 20 minutes Saturday as both teams capitalized on the power play late in the period.

Senior wing Quinn Olson and sophomore defenseman Darian Gotz scored for UMD in the first, with Gotz striking a little over two minutes into the game via a shot from the point through traffic that Chrona never appeared to see.

A boarding major by Olson — who was also given a major for checking from behind in the second — led to Pioneers sophomore wing Carter Mazur tying the game 24 seconds into the major power play. That was the only goal Denver scored during its two majors, as they killed the final 50 seconds of their first major power play via a tripping penalty. That also put UMD on the advantage for the final 39 seconds of the first period.

UMD only needed 25 seconds of power play time to take the lead for good as Olson put away a rebound that came off a shot by Kaiser with 14.2 seconds left in the period.

UMD finished 3-for-4 on the power play Saturday after going 0-for-4 on Friday during nine minutes of power play time. The Bulldogs held Denver to 2-for-5 over 12:14 of power play time Saturday.

“The thing I liked is we never trailed in the game,” Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. “We fought through a lot of adversity — two five-minute major kills, we give up one goal. Our power play, which struggled last night, came through big time.


“Our power play was the difference tonight. Last night we could have used it. Tonight they came through for us.”

Matt’s Three Stars

3. UMD freshman wing Isaac Howard — A career-high three-point night for Howard, who was also praised by coach Scott Sandelin after the game for his defensive play.

2. UMD freshman wing Ben Steeves — His 19 goals this season are the most by a freshman in the NCHC and tied for the most goals by a freshman nationally.

1. UMD junior defenseman Wyatt Kaiser — A career-high four points for Kaiser, who led a strong night for the Bulldogs blue liners.

Box score

Minnesota Duluth 2-3-1—6
Denver 1-1-3—5
First period
1. UMD, Darian Gotz (Isaac Howard, Wyatt Kaiser), 2:13
2. DU, Carter Mazur (Aidan Thompson, Tristan Broz), 14:45
3. UMD, Quinn Olson (Kaiser, Aidan Dubsinky), 19:46 (pp)
Second period
4. DU, Jack Devine (Tristan Broz, Sean Behrens), 1:14
5. UMD, Luke Johnson (Howard), 2:30
6. UMD, Ben Steeves (Joey Pierce), 17:19
7. UMD, Kaiser (Dominic James, Luke Loheit), 18:38 (pp)
Third period
8. DU, Mike Benning (Carter King, Devine), 0:53 (pp)
9. DU, Massimo Rizzo (Devine), 1:43
10. UMD, Steeves (Kaiser, Howard), 2:26 (pp)
11. DU, Rizzo (Justin Lee, Devine), 8:22
Saves — Magnus Chrona, DU, 13; Matt Davis, DU, 1; Matthew Thiessen, UMD, 29.
Power plays — UMD 3-4; DU 2-5. Penalties — UMD 5-16; DU 5-10.

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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