DENVER — Using experience and pace to gain the edge, the Denver Pioneers overpowered the talented but young U.S. National Under-18 Team 7-2 in their exhibition Saturday night.
In a telling statistic, Denver outshot Team USA 44-15 over three periods, at one point rattling off 20 straight shots on goal and holding Team USA to nine shots in the first two periods. Experience was a factor, as the fast-skating Under-18 team just couldn’t keep pace with the Pioneers and their overall game level.
“It was important for us to get a win,” said Denver coach George Gwozdecky. “This was a game that we wanted to play well, and we wanted to take the lead. It was an important game for us to play as many of our top players as we could. For the most part, I thought we did that.”
The rout began early, as the Pioneers thoroughly dominated the first period. On their way to outshooting Team USA 22-5 in the opening stanza, Denver scored twice and played special teams to near perfection. Team USA took the game’s first shot on goal, but then watched helplessly as the Pioneers took the next 20 shots.
In the first power play of the game, Denver did not score, but put 13 shots on Roth and pressured him constantly. The Pioneers held the puck in the offensive zone for the full two minutes. Just 26 seconds after the penalty expired, Denver beat Team USA goalie Tim Roth when freshman wing Jeff Drummond scored. With a scrum in front of Roth, Drummond was able to sneak in on the right and poke the puck into the net. Senior defenseman Jesse Cook and sophomore wing Greg Keith assisted.
“They had a lot of shots on the power play early, and there was a pretty big imbalance there,” said Team USA head coach Mike Eaves. “They played hard, and that’s one of the reasons we wanted to play them. If we can learn to play at that pace, we’re going to be a lot better off at the year’s end. That’s what we’re focusing on.”
Roth kept Team USA in the game for most of the first period, as Denver continued to outshoot the national team. Just as it seemed Team USA was going to escape the first period relatively unscathed, the Pioneers broke through again. With less than a minute left in the period, freshman wing Jon Foster found himself on the right side of the net looking at a half-open goal with Roth out of position.
Foster pulled the shot, however, knocking the puck off the outer post. The puck bounced around, and Roth thought he had it covered. But Foster persisted and managed to push the puck in the net with 36 seconds left in the period for a 2-0 Denver lead the Pioneers never came close to relinquishing.
“Two-nothing is probably the falsest lead in hockey,” Eaves added. “It would have been nice to have been 1-0, but 2-0 is not insurmountable. Unfortunately, the barrage kept coming, and we couldn’t stay with their pace.”
The second period was more of the same, as Denver continued to outshoot and outscore Team USA. The Pioneers poured it on, scoring four times in the period while limiting their opponents to four shots on goal. Pioneers junior center Kevin Doell, sophomore defenseman Ryan Caldwell, Cook and Foster scored in the second period for Denver, while Team USA wing Jim McKenzie tallied a power play goal to get the Under-18s on the scoreboard.
“The first period was a little bit shaky,” said Foster. “We came out in the second period, and we were just pumped, ready to go. After that first goal of the second period, we just kept pouring it on.”
The third period was a penalty-filled affair, with the Pioneers able to maintain the edge on the scoreboard with relative ease. Wing Patrick Eaves scored for Team USA, while junior wing J.J. Hartmann notched a goal for Denver.
Junior goaltender Wade Dubielewicz started the game for the Pioneers, and sophomore Adam Berkhoel replaced him midway through the second period. Each goalie gave up one goal. Denver senior goalie Andy Lemelin also saw net time in the third period.
The Pioneers open their WCHA schedule next weekend, hosting Alaska-Anchorage for two games.
“This builds on the confidence and understanding,” Gwozdecky said. “We played within our system; it works, it works well. The team realizes we have talent, we have depth — the team realizes that when we play hard and play to win, we’re going to give ourselves a pretty good chance.”
Team USA fell to 8-4-2 on its schedule and will play an exhibition at Air Force Sunday night.