DENVER — The Denver Pioneers stayed perfect on the young 2001-2002 season, running away from the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves 7-2 to up their record to an unblemished 3-0-0.
In the WCHA opener for both teams, No. 8 Denver (1-0-0 WCHA) blew open a close game and kept applying the pressure throughout to keep Alaska-Anchorage off-balance and playing from behind.
The Seawolves fell to 1-3-1 on the season (0-1-0 WCHA).
“During certain parts of the game, there are always opportunities that you have to take advantage of, whether it’s offensively or defensively,” Pioneer coach George Gwozdecky said. “Those opportunities presented themselves, and we were able to get ourselves get over the hump.”
The first period was a closely-contested 20 minutes, as Denver managed to get a goal early before the two teams settled down. Alaska-Anchorage freshman defenseman Lee Green was called for boarding just 44 seconds into the game, and the Pioneers made the most of their opportunity.
With the power play winding down, sophomore wing Lukas Dora wristed a shot from a poor angle in the left flat that ricocheted off Seawolf sophomore goalie Chris King and into the net for the score. Junior center Kevin Doell notched his second assist of the season on the play, and junior wing Greg Barber got his first assist as well.
“I thought the Doell line with Barber and Dora were our strength tonight,” Gwozdecky said.
After the goal, both teams found a competitive groove that lasted for the rest of the period. Although shots on goal were even at five apiece for the opening stanza, it was an exciting period to watch with plenty of high-level offense and defense — the scoreboard just didn’t reflect the energy and pace of the game.
In the second period, Denver was able to extend their lead to 3-1 behind some determined play in front of the net. Twice King appeared to have made the save and covered before the Pioneers were able to get the puck into the net.
With the score tied 1-1, sophomore wing Greg Keith was able to push the puck past King 4:19 into the second period for his second goal of the season, and a little more than three minutes later, it was sophomore wing Connor James notching his first goal of the season, prying the puck loose from King to score.
Keith’s goal gave Denver a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, but both goals were extreme disappointments for the Seawolves.
“It’s always going to be deflating, especially when the effort and the intensity has been there,” UAA Head Coach John Hill said. “I think any time you have soft goals scored against you, it’s going to deflate your bench a little bit.”
“At that point, it was anybody’s game,” Gwozdecky added. “In fact, Anchorage was probably carrying the game a little better. There’s no question those two goals gave us a little bit of a cushion and energized not only the crowd but our team.”
Alaska-Anchorage got a somewhat fluky goal themselves in the period. Shorthanded early in the period, senior wing Gregg Zaporzan took a pretty pass from senior center Steve Cygan on the left side of the ice and broke alone towards Pioneer junior goalie Wade Dubielewicz.
Dubielewicz stopped Zaporzan’s hard slap shot from the left flat, but the goalie’s backward momentum took him into the net and gave the Seawolves a momentary tie in the game. It was Zaporzan’s third goal and Cygan’s sixth assist on the year.
Other than that slip, Dubielewicz made a handful of great saves in the second period to further frustrate the Seawolves. Alaska-Anchorage outshot the Pioneers 13-10 in the second session, but they couldn’t get much past Dubielewicz.
“I have to give a lot of credit to the defense tonight,” Dubielewicz said. “I thought my play was average at best. It was one of those games. I think we got a lot of bounces tonight. UAA was a little unlucky at times.”
The beginning of the third period saw a quick exchange of goals. At 4:00 of the period, Denver senior center David Neale got the puck off a costly turnover right in front of the net, and he beat King under the left pad to make it 4-1. Less than a minute later, Seawolf freshman wing John Hopson was able to put a rebounded puck past Dubielewicz to bring Alaska-Anchorage back to 4-2.
But they would get no closer.
After that, it was all Pioneers in the third period, pouring it on and showing the 4,063 in attendance why they deserve a Top 10 national ranking. Dora, junior wing Greg Barber and junior wing Matt Weber all scored in the third period to put the Seawolves down for good.
“That’s two games in a row we’ve collapsed in the third period,” Hill said. “I can’t really pinpoint it, but it’s something that concerns me. We need to score some power play goals.”
Denver wasn’t satisfied with their effort, either, despite the blowout win.
“We have to play better,” Gwozdecky said. “And we will play better. I thought the Seawolves put tremendous pressure on us, and I thought they played well. They had a lot of opportunities. As much as we all realize as a team that we can all get better, we’re still able to take advantage of opportunities.”
The two teams play again on Saturday evening in Denver (7:05 MT).