Second Half Comeback Lifts Duke Past Denver in Season Opener

(Photo Courtesy of Duke Athletics)

The 2021 season for the Duke Blue Devils started in the most assuming way possible: a Michael Sowers feed to Brennan O’Neill for their first goal of the season. It would be just one of three such plays during Duke’s season-opening win over the Denver Pioneers.

The Star-studded freshman and highly touted grad transfer led the Blue Devils with four points each. O’Neill ended the game with three goals and one assist and Sowers with one goal and three assists. Jackson Morrill had a first half hat trick to lead Denver and both Lucas Cotler and J.J. Sillstrop each had two goals and one assist.

Turner Uppgren ended the day with 11 saves (.733 save percentage) for Duke. Denver’s Alec Stathakis had the upper hand at the faceoff dot, going 19-for-25 (76%).

Following that O’Neill goal on Duke’s first possession of the game, it would be all Denver for the rest of the first quarter as the Pioneers scored five unanswered, including two each from Jackson Morrill and J.J. Sillstrop.

After a Blair Schuyler feed to Drew Erickson for a power play (man-up) goal with 13:23 in the second put Denver up 6-1, the Blue Devils opted for a goalie change and pulled Mike Adler and put in Turner Uppgren, who made four saves to end half.

Sowers kicked a loose ball in for his first goal as a Blue Devil just minutes later. That sequence was followed by a Lucas Cotler goal that stretched Denver’s lead back to 7-2. However, after nearly five minutes of silence the Blue Devils broke it with a O’Neill feed to Dyson Williams to really give the Duke offense some juice. Sowers assisted on a Griffin Catlett goal to end the half and cut Denver’s lead to 8-4 heading into the locker room.

While Lucas Cotler got Denver on the board first to start the second half, the Blue Devils quickly and continued to turn up the heat. Two straight O’Neill goals off a Sowers feed cut the Pioneers lead to just three goals. Sean Lowrie, Owen Caputo, and Nakeie Montgomery got in on the scoring party as well, helping to outscore Denver 5-2 in the third and make it a one-goal, 10-9, game heading into the final period.

Goals from Cameron Badour and Owen Caputo put the Blue Devils up 11-10 with 7:38 in the fourth and Reilly Walsh added the cherry on top with an inside finish at the 1:05 mark in the game to secure the 12-10 victory for Duke.

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