DENVER — It was a tale of two power plays, highlighting the best of times for Denver and painfully emphasizing the worst of times for Alaska-Anchorage.
A fitting sequel to the previous night, the Denver Pioneers jumped out early on the Seawolves, burying them in the first period for the second consecutive night en route to a 5-1 win Saturday. Pioneer Matt Weber scored his first career hat trick to lead all scorers.
The win keeps Denver in sixth place in the WCHA, one point behind the Wisconsin Badgers. Wisconsin defeated Colorado College, 5-3, Saturday night to stay ahead of the Pioneers. The Seawolves failed to advance on their ninth place standing.
“It was a good weekend for us in the sense we got two very important wins,” said Denver head coach George Gwozdecky. “They kept playing hard. Our goal was to improve on last night’s performance, and I think we did. We missed some chances, but we also stopped most of their chances.”
On the strength of their power play, Denver raced to a 3-0 lead in the first period behind two goals by center Chris Paradise. Conversely, UAA was 0-for-3 on its first period power-play opportunities, and it never recovered.
The action started early when Seawolf center Pete Talafous took a slashing penalty at 1:13. With the power play coming to a close, Weber took a perfect centering pass from center Kevin Doell and beat UAA goalie Kurt Johnson from directly in front of the net. Defenseman Jesse Cook also assisted on the goal.
“We came out and did whatever we had to,” said Weber. “We just played our game and made them play us. We were really focused this week, and we knew we had to come out strong. It makes the game a lot easier when you come out strong in the first period.”
After completing a penalty kill, Denver got back on the scoreboard with another power-play goal at 9:18, this one by Paradise. After a sequence of smooth passes, Paradise one-timed a goal from the top right of the zone. Defenseman Ryan Caldwell and wing Connor James assisted.
Paradise added an even-strength goal at 18:01 of the first, on assists from James and defenseman Erik Adams. From the short left flat, Paradise netted his 17th goal of the season, simply beating Johnson with a hard shot.
While Denver was 2-for-2 on first period power plays, UAA wasted three man-up chances early to get on the scoreboard, and like Friday night, the deficit was just too much to overcome for the Seawolves.
“In the first period, we played too hard sometimes and were out of position,” UAA head coach Dean Talafous said. “The power play was the difference in the first period. We kind of ran around and were trying almost too hard to be aggressive. From that point on, we really settled down.”
Johnson was getting his first start of the season for UAA, and his relative inexperience showed in the first period. But after first-string goalie Chris King gave up six goals on Friday night, Coach Talafous thought it was a good time to give Johnson a shot.
“He’s worked hard, and King’s been struggling for quite awhile now,” Talafous said. “If Johnson plays well, maybe we have someone who can help us. If he doesn’t play well, at least King can sit back and watch a game. It gives him a little different perspective and they appreciate the opportunity to play more.”
But it didn’t really matter who the Seawolves put in goal this weekend; the Pioneers were zoned in on both nights.
After Weber added his second goal at 6:45 of the second to put Denver up 4-0, another pattern from Friday night’s game resurfaced. UAA’s Mike Scott scored unassisted at 9:48 in the second to make it 4-1, but the Pioneers responded less than two minutes later to squelch any Seawolf momentum.
Weber completed his hat trick at 11:17 in the second when he took a pass from defenseman Aaron MacKenzie and scored from the middle of the right flat to make it 5-1. James also picked up his fourth assist on the night on the play. Weber had two good scoring chances to add to his goal total in the third period, but came up short.
Denver is now 7-0-0 on the season when scoring five or more goals. Weber’s hat trick was DU’s second of the season against the Seawolves. Pioneer center Bjorn Engstrom performed the feat on Dec. 9 at Alaska-Anchorage.
Denver’s dominance on both nights led to a lot of frustration penalties by Alaska-Anchorage. Among the worst penalties on Saturday night, UAA’s Joe Garvin drew a game disqualification at 19:20 in the second for slashing. On the weekend, UAA was slapped with 74 minutes of penalties and gave Denver a lot of time and opportunity on the power play.
“Intelligent hockey is almost as important as playing physical and aggressive hockey,” Talafous said. “You need the combination, and sometimes you can get a little too hyped.”
With the loss, UAA completed its WCHA regular season slate and will travel for the first round of the league playoffs. Denver has a chance to secure home ice for the first round when its hosts 10th-place Minnesota-Duluth for two games next weekend. To catch Wisconsin for fifth place, the Pioneers will need Michigan Tech to take at least a point from the Badgers next weekend.
“We need some help from Michigan Tech,” said Gwozdecky. “The battle’s just starting to heat up now. From here on in, it’s going to be as close to war as you can get.”