OMAHA, Neb. -- North Dakota and Denver were picked to finish 1-2 in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings in the preseason media poll.
They were both ranked in the top five nationally in the USCHO preseason poll.
And their two head-to-head matchups in the NCHC Pod did not disappoint.
For the second time in five days, UND and Denver played an entertaining, see-saw game, filled with momentum swings, players loudly cursing at each other in an empty building and all the drama of past contests in this rivalry.
On Friday night, it ended with Jordan Kawaguchi scoring an overtime goal to give UND the win.
On Tuesday afternoon, it ended with Denver freshman Carter Savoie scoring a power-play goal with just 2:02 left in the third period to give the Pioneers the victory.
UND forward Brendan Budy, a transfer from Denver, was called for a checking-from-behind major with 6:42 to go in the third period and the Pioneers converted with just :20 left in the advantage to beat the Fighting Hawks 3-2.
“We took some undisciplined penalties and that was the difference in the game for us tonight,” UND coach Brad Berry said. “It’s pretty tough to kill the amount of penalties we did and come out unscathed. We paid the price tonight for it.”
Two of Denver’s three goals came on the power play, where the Pioneers had five opportunities.
Savoie’s winner came off the rush, his fifth of the season. He became the freshman in DU history to score goals in his first four games.
The Fighting Hawks, who rallied from a 2-0 first-period deficit, received goals from Kawaguchi and Collin Adams, while Matt Kiersted and Shane Pinto each had two assists. Pinto is now the NCHC's leading scorer with seven points.
“I don’t think we came out hard enough,” Adams said. “I think we let them play their game and we didn’t play ours. I think discipline is a huge thing for us. We gave their power play too many chances and it ended up hurting us in the end.”
UND and Denver will not play again in the NCHC Pod, but they are scheduled to play four more times this season: Jan. 15-16 in Denver and Feb. 5-6 in Grand Forks.
“The team we played is a really good hockey team and they’re a lot of fun to play,” Denver coach David Carle said. “I think we make them better. I know they make us better. It’s heated on the ice. The battle level is high. The pace is high. But there’s a high level of respect. It was a fun hockey game.
“Truthfully, I’m excited we get to play them four more times. You learn so much about your group and you get better. It’s a great showcase for college hockey when we’re going at it. Both games we played in the Pod could have gone either way.”
It marked UND's first loss of the season (3-1), ending its five-game unbeaten streak against the Pioneers, UND's longest since 2003-04. It also helped Denver (1-3) avoid its first 0-4 start since 1990.
The Fighting Hawks next play 4-0 Minnesota Duluth at 7:35 p.m. Thursday night in Baxter Arena.
“We have to be better in a bunch of different areas,” Berry said. “I just talked about the discipline side of it. Five-on-five, I didn’t think our forecheck was sustainable enough to be effective. We were getting after it with the first guy, the second guy was a little late on plays into the offensive zone. I think we have to sharpen up on that side of it to give ourselves a little more of a chance to play in the offensive zone. I thought it got better in the second and the third, but to start the game, we weren’t there.
“We’re playing in two days. We have to turn the page, learn from our mistakes today and turn the page, because it comes quickly here.”
UND played the game without rookie defensemen Jake Sanderson and Tyler Kleven, who left to join the U.S. World Junior Championship team Sunday. Sanderson, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, and Kleven, a second-round pick, are not expected to return until January.
Senior Josh Rieger and freshman Cooper Moore filled in their spots.
“I thought they did reasonably well,” Berry said of Rieger and Moore. “This is a tough game with speed up and down, but I thought they adapted pretty well to the game. It’s a situation now where we’re right down to the (minimum) number to play. So, it’s incumbent upon everyone to make sure they prepare accordingly and are ready to go, because we’re going to need everybody from here on in down the stretch in the Pod.”
The Fighting Hawks also were without forward Harrison Blaisdell, who left Sunday’s game in the third period with an undisclosed injury.
“He had some tests that were taken (Monday),” Berry said. “They weren’t as severe as what we thought they were, so it’s positive in the fact that we believe that in a few days, we can give him another evaluation here soon and we’re very hopeful that he will be playing back in the Pod again.”