DURHAM, N.H. — The Denver Pioneers, the second-ranked men’s ice hockey team in the country, got a pair of strange second-period goals from Greg Keith and Jon Foster and went on to a 4-1 win over Vermont in the first round of the New England Conference Classic at the University of New Hampshire Saturday.
Vermont’s Shawn Conschafter was brilliant in the game, making more than a half-dozen breathtaking saves to keep the game close throughout. He finished with 29 saves.
“I was very happy with Shawn again,” Vermont coach Mike Gilligan said. “He’s giving us enough in the net to compete with these teams. Now we have to find a way to put some pucks in the net at the other end.”
The Catamounts came out flying against the second-ranked Pioneers in a scoreless but exciting first period, getting a number of good scoring chances early on while Conschafter made a number of excellent saves at the other end. Vermont was 0-for-2 on the power play in the opening 20 minutes, while Denver was 0-for-1 on the man advantage. Nonetheless, Vermont held a 12-7 advantage in shots on goal, a good sign considering the trouble the Catamounts have had recently in getting quality shots on net.
Denver, 9-0-0 overall and off to its best start in school history, took a 1-0 lead when Kevin Doell scored his fourth goal of the season just 19 seconds into the second period, converting a nice centering pass in front from Greg Barber. The Pioneers nearly made it 2-0 seconds later when Connor James broke in alone on Conschafter, but the Catamount netminder stacked the pads and made the stop.
Conschafter continued to excel as the Pioneers went on the power play, making a tremendous save on James and then Chris Paradise late in the Denver man advantage.
The Pioneers scored on a strange play in front of the Catamount net at 7:04 of the second period, as the puck trickled over the goal line after being redirected. Keith was credited with goal, with Jason Grahame and David Neale recording assists.
Vermont, 1-7-1 overall, cut Denver’s lead to 2-1 at 18:05 of the second period when Ryan Miller took a pass from Thomas Hajek and broke down the left wing before cutting to the net and beating Denver goalie Wade Dubielewicz with a backhander through the pads.
But Denver regained their two-goal advantage 36 seconds later when Jon Foster scored another odd goal from the left of the crease. Conschafter went to his knees to cover the puck, but Foster somehow nudged the goal toward the net while sitting on the ice, and it eluded Conschafter and trickled over the goal line for the Pioneers’ third goal of the game.
Vermont had an excellent chance to cut into Denver’s lead with 8:38 remaining in the third period. John Longo made a nice move around the net and got a shot on Dubielewicz, who then gave up rebound opportunities to both Brady Leisenring and Scott Mifsud before the puck was cleared. Greg Barber scored his sixth goal of the season into the empty net at 18:20 to make for the final margin.
Dubielewicz recorded 31 saves for Denver.
Notes: Thunder Bay, Ontario was well represented in the game. Vermont’s Patrick Sharp and Bryson Busniuk are from Thunder Bay, as is Denver Coach George Gwozdecky and Pioneer defensemen Aaron MacKenzie and Erik Adams. … Senior assistant captain Chris Hills is expected to play Sunday against Ohio State after missing the UMass and Denver games with an injury. … The last time Vermont played Denver was on March 21, 1997 in the first round of the NCAA East Regionals at the Worcester Centrum. Denver won that game, 6-3. … Lewis Gross, the professional agent for former UVM players John LeClair, Aaron Miller and Martin St. Louis, among others, was in attendance at the game.