Denver Sweeps North Dakota in Two Game Series 


Maeve Hushman, Sports Reporter

“You cannot just play good and expect to be great,” Alternate Captain Judd Caulfield said after the University of North Dakota’s Saturday night loss to the University of Denver. The #2 ranked defending NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Champion University of Denver Pioneers defeated UND in their two-game series with scores of 3-2 and 6-3, respectively, giving DU their first sweep in Grand Forks since 2010.   

UND’s performance in Friday’s game was promising. They lost by only one goal, the play seemed evenly matched with a few lapses, and they outshot Denver 23-19. The performance that should have been built off that first night was notably absent.   

In Saturday’s game, UND scored the fastest goal in NCHC history. Freshman Dylan James took the puck off the opening faceoff and carried it into Denver’s zone before quickly passing it across the ice to Caulfield. The puck hit Caulfield’s skate, but he quickly maneuvered it onto his stick while still skating toward the net. With a quick shot glove side, Caulfield gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead only 7 seconds into the first period. Even though they opened scoring quickly, UND would only manage two more shots that period, while Denver had 14.    

DU scored quickly into the second period, but the goal was waived off due to goaltender interference, while the disallowed goal seemed to kill off DU’s momentum for a moment; DU  would score two goals to take the lead. Penalties on Denver’s Kyle Mayhew (Roughing) and Mike Benning (Cross checking) gave UND a 5-on-3 advantage which they capitalized on with Cooper Moore scoring to tie the game briefly. Brent Johnson took a tripping penalty quickly after that game-tying goal. On the power play, Denver’s Carter Mazur restored the lead for Denver, with a 3-2 score coming out of the second.   

The third started with UND back on their powerplay; despite its usual success, UND could not convert. DU would score two more times before Johnson responded, scoring UND’s 3rd and final goal 13:00 minutes into the third. However, the late rally was not enough. Jared Wright scored DU’s 6th goal on an empty net to complete the win.  

Denver played fast, continually outskating the Hawks. While the Pioneers were not sharp, their speed could cover up their mistakes. DU was strong on the forecheck and could go into the corners to dig out pucks, frequently winning puck battles along the boards. While they raced up the ice, UND tried to keep pace. Sometimes they managed to skate in time with the Pioneer players but seemed less willing to battle along the boards like Denver. It got to the point that while in the offensive zone, Denver would ring the pucks around the boards with the confidence that UND would not take possession away there.   

In a Wednesday press conference before both games, there were a few talking points echoed by Dylan James, Ty Farmer, and Head Coach Brad Berry. There was an emphasis on playing a full 60 minutes of their best hockey, sticking to the teams’ systems, taking away space, and committing to whole team defense. Some of those strategies were visible in Friday’s performance, but that team was not on the ice in Saturday’s game.   

“They played together as a unit, and we did not,” Defenseman Ethan Frisch said, another alternate captain, post-game after Saturday’s loss. Denver looked like a team with identity and a team that knew how they needed to play to pull out a win. They kept a strategy of being strong on the puck and playing so fast that UND would scramble to keep up. With a team that plays more open-fast hockey like the kind DU was playing, a team that commits to defense and to structure can have much success, but UND let DU set the pace of the game. UND’s roster is littered with talent, and they are more than capable of beating DU, but that cannot be playing DU’s game. It cannot be done when a team does not play together and with one cohesive system and style.   

Berry took umbrage with the puck management after Saturday’s game, “I thought puck management was not the best … the execution from our defenseman or forwards and that fit into their momentum.” UND was not able to maintain possession, and Berry placed some of the blame on over-complicated plays: “We tried to make [it] perfectly rather than a simple play … the simple play is a ten-foot pass to a guy that’s wide open instead of stretching it through two guys and turning the puck over going the other way.” The “keep it simple” method is vital for highly skilled teams, especially in high-speed games when decision-making can get muddied. Berry says it comes from a place of care, that every player is trying so hard to win that they overthink the plays they are supposed to make. He praised the line of Matteo Costantini, Griffin Ness, and Nick Portz for not falling into that trap. “They have played simply. They played directly, (they)played in the offensive zone, and … they did it shift after shift.”   

One huge factor for both games was the absence of top UND defenseman Tyler Kleven. Kleven was injured early on Friday night and was out of the lineup for Saturday’s game. His physical presence was missed when it came to winning puck battles and slowing down the pace of play. Regarding Kleven’s status, Berry said post-game, “I would be guessing he will be ready for next weekend.” Hopefully, whatever injury Kleven took was minor, and he can get back to full strength as soon as possible.   

It is easy to write about how badly a team plays when they lose. There were a few highlights from this weekend. Rookie Dylan James continued his point streak through the weekend with one assist in Friday’s game and two on Saturday. He showed off his speed in Saturday’s game and was a pivotal contributor to the 7-second goal.   

There are glimpses of how good this team can be. They pushed Denver to the outside during the first period and kept high-danger shot attempts down. Even though Denver had 14 shot attempts in the first, they could not score on any of them. Keeping Denver away from the net front and away from clear scoring lanes helped maintain UND’s lead. In the third period of both games, UND pushed and gained back momentum showing they had fight left in them no matter the score. But these glimpses are only a mirage of an NCAA. Championship team until the Hawks can put all the pieces together.   

“We know we are better than this,” Frisch said. “We are really a team. You look at us on paper; you see some of our practices we have, even some of the games we’ve played. We are a good team. We could play with a team like that. We are a lot better than that.”   

This team needs to find itself. “We are going to be the ones that have to turn this ship around,” Caulfield said. “Just holding guys accountable … if someone is not playing their best game, you have got to pick them up. You cannot just brush it off and expect things to get better.”   

Berry echoed this but focused on on-ice systems. “Do your job within the system and the structure and believe in the system, and the structure works.” There must be 100% team buy-in for a structured and systems-based team to work. With some roster turnover, it might take some time for the new roster to figure out how the systems work and how they work together.   

Despite some perceived growing pains, Frisch concluded his media availability with this notion surrounding team unity “We are going to have to support each other but be honest with each other … at the end of the day, we are all on the same team. We are all one unit.”  

The answer is within this team, and once they find their identity, commit to a system, and play with heart for a full 60 minutes, they will find the success their talented roster promised.   


Maeve Hushman is a Dakota Student Sports Reporter. She can be reached at [email protected].