DENVER — The first sign things were off came before the puck even dropped.
When the public address announcer an empty, quiet Magness Arena called out Riese Gaber's name for pregame introductions, Shane Pinto skated out to the blue line. Then, Gaber skated out to Pinto's name. They looked at each other at the blue line, realizing their mix up.
It didn't get much better from there.
In the first period, the University of North Dakota trailed for the first time in 373 minutes, 57 seconds — a span of seven games and more than a month on the calendar — when Ryan Barrow's attempted pass ended up in the back of the net.
In the second period, UND found itself down by four goals, its largest deficit in any game since Nov. 30, 2018 at Minnesota Duluth.
When it was over, Denver ended UND's six-game winning streak with a 4-1 victory in the opener of their two-game series.
Ryan Barrow, Reid Irwin, Jake Durflinger and Justin Lee scored goals to hand UND its first loss since Dec. 12 to St. Cloud State in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Pod.
Tyler Kleven scored UND's lone goal on Denver's Magnus Chrona (28 saves) with just 71 seconds left, preventing UND from its first shutout loss since the 2019 playoffs in the same building against the same team.
The Fighting Hawks (9-3-1) let a chance to move into first place in the league standings slip away, but they'll have one more shot at 8:07 p.m. Monday night before heading back to Grand Forks. They're currently one point back of St. Cloud State.
UND will also try to avoid losing back-to-back games. That hasn't happened this year and never happened once last season, either.
In fact, the last time the Fighting Hawks lost two in a row was in Magness Arena to end the 2018-19 season in the first round of the NCHC's playoffs. That team had to bus to Denver from Albuquerque after its flight was diverted due to a blizzard.
The Pioneers looked every bit like the team that was picked to finish second in the NCHC this season. After a 3-7-1 start to the season at the NCHC Pod and a single road game at Colorado College, the Pioneers have won back-to-back games at home, outscoring their opponents 10-2.
The Pioneers jumped out to the lead at 13:49 of the first period, when Steven Jandric stole the puck from UND rookie Riese Gaber, who was attempting to leave the zone. Jandric gave the puck to Barrow to start a two-on-one. Barrow attempted to pass it back to Jandric, but it hit Scheel and went in the net.
Denver added to the lead when Brink flew up the right side on a rush, UND defenseman Cooper Moore fell down and Brink took it across the crease for a chance. Scheel made the initial stop, but Irwin followed it up at 16:45.
The Pioneers made it 3-0 at 9:49 of the second period when Jake Durflinger pounced on a rebound of a Kyle Mayhew point shot. Then, Lee sent a point shot through traffic at 13:57.