ST. PAUL, Minn. — We’ve heard all about Jason Zucker. And the Shore brothers too. But much of Denver’s good fortune as of late has come from the stick of senior right wing Luke Salazar.
The small (5-foot-7, 155 pounds) and quiet forward has scored some big, loud goals for his team in the month of March.
Salazar, from the Denver suburb of Thornton, Colo., was the hero in last weekend’s series win over Wisconsin, notching the game-winning goal in a 3-1 victory Saturday and following that up with the overtime winner Sunday, sending the Pioneers to St. Paul.
Thursday, his goal — which finished off a three-on-two rush at 15:28 of the third period — drew the Pioneers even with Michigan Tech in the WCHA Final Five quarterfinals. That goal forced overtime, and Zucker finished the come-from-behind victory at 2:18 of that extra stanza, sending the Pioneers to a Friday semifinal matchup with Minnesota-Duluth.
Gwozdecky called Salazar one of the quietest players he’s had in “some time.” But, “certainly his play and his stick talk for him, so to speak,” he said.
Salazar, who has 12 game-winning goals and two game-tying tallies in his career, bashfully turned the credit away from himself afterward.
“I’ve pretty much just been lucky, I think, the past couple games here,” he said.
His linemate Drew Shore quickly disagreed with that assessment. “He called himself lucky, but I don’t really think a guy that scores that many game-winning goals that late in games really should be ‘lucky,’” Shore said. “He does it time and time again. I don’t know if I’ve played with that many guys who have been able to score that many big goals in their career. He’s been playing great. Hopefully he keeps it up.”
It’s been a long journey for the undrafted, largely unheralded Salazar. The hometown kid put up 25 points for the Pioneers his freshman year, most of which he spent on a line with star forward Tyler Bozak. But Bozak’s signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2009 left Salazar as the odd man out, as he struggled through a sophomore season in which he appeared in only 17 games.
“It was a struggle for Luke because he had to become better away from the puck,” Gwozdecky said. “He had to learn how to play away from the puck. Rather than wait for somebody to get him the puck, he had to go get it.
“To his credit it, he’s worked very hard at it.”
Now, Gwozdecky said he’s happy to see the soft-spoken Salazar contribute in big ways to the Pioneers.
“It’s really great to see the effort and work that he’s put in, to see it all of a sudden now bear fruit toward the end of his senior year,” Gwozdecky said. “It’s a great example of if you keep hanging in there, and you keep working, good things are going to happen.”