DENVER, CO. — Bjorn Engstrom had a four-point night with two goals and two assists, Kelly Popadynetz added a goal and two assists, and both skaters joined the Pioneers’ Century Club as Denver defeated Air Force, 5-2, in the first round of the Wells Fargo Denver Cup.
With the win, the Pioneeers (10-7-2) stretch their unbeaten streak to 10 games (8-0-2) — the second-longest wave in the country — and advance to Saturday’s championship game to play Providence, a 4-2 winner over Ferris State. Air Force (9-7-1) will play the Bulldogs on Saturday in the consolation game.
The Pioneers quickly shook off two weeks of rust by scoring the game’s first goal just 2 minutes, 6 seconds into the game when Popadynetz and Engstrom started a 2-on-1 break. Popadynetz skated down the right wing, waited as the Air Force defender fell down to block the shot, then slipped a pass under the Falcon defender to a cutting Engstrom, who flipped a one-timer under Marc Kielkucki’s stick side.
Air Force struck back at the 11:11 mark when Judd Stauss broke his stick trying to clear the puck out of the Pioneer zone. The Falcons took the turnover and converted when Shane Saum wristed a bullet over the stick side of Adam Berkhoel, who was making his first start between the pipes in 10 games.
Engstrom and Popadynetz would hook up again in mirror fashion 5:36 into the second period, as Engstrom streaked down the left wing and fed a cross to Popadynetz, who wristed a shot over Kielkucki’s stick side. Less than two minutes later, Stauss skated along the blue line and fired a shot toward the net that Max Bull deflected in at 7:24.
The first highlight of the night came at the 9:42 mark of the second period,when Popadynetz fed Engstrom a pass from the left circle. Engstrom chipped in an easy one-timer for his second goal of the game, and more notably, the 100th point of Popadynetz’ career. He now has 40 goals and 60 assists over his four-year career.
With 11 seconds left in the game, Matt Weber slid in an empty-netter that was assisted by Engstrom to post his 100th career point (43-57-100). Popadynetz and Engstrom are now the 80th and 81st Pioneers to join the Century Club.
“Kelly and Bjorn are both great players, and they both had great games,” said Denver coach George Gwozdecky. “All four teams showed rust from the break, but I thought we played a solid game. There is a lot to play for tomorrow night.”