COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Denver forward Matt Weber’s goal, 31 seconds after Air Force tied the game up at one, proved to be the game winner, as Denver defeated Air Force, 2-1, in front of 2,096 fans, Sunday night at the Cadet Ice Arena. With the win, the top-ranked Pioneers improved to 22-2-0 (15-1-0 WCHA) and dropped the Cadets to 10-12-0 (1-8-0 CHA).
“This was one of the most difficult games we’ve played all year,” said Denver Head Coach George Gwozdecky. “I thought they really played well. They outworked us at parts of the game, and were in it all the way. [Mike] Polidor did a great job in net for them, and Adam [Berkhoel] had to make some big stops for us.”
After playing a scoreless first 15 minutes, all three of the game’s goals were scored during a four-minute span late in the first period.
Denver opened the scoring at 14:53 while on the power play. Forward Lukas Dora collected a loose puck deep in the Air Force zone as he circled behind the net. Dora continued to circle and once he reached the point, he fired a slap shot through traffic that beat Air Force goaltender Polidor. Dora’s ninth goal of the season came on Denver’s 10th shot of the period and was assisted by defensemen Ryan Caldwell and James Armstrong.
The Falcons answered back just over three minutes later with Denver forward Connor James in the penalty box. Forward Spanky Leonard won an offensive zone faceoff back to forward Andy Berg on the point. Berg faked a shot to take one of the Denver penalty killers out of the play, then took a slap shot on net. The shot deflected off a Denver defender in front of the net and bounced past Berkhoel.
Denver answered back 31 seconds later, taking advantage of a neutral zone turnover to gain an odd-man rush. Matt Weber skated in on the wing, faked a pass across, and then sent a wrist shot past Mike Polidor.
“We scored to tie it and it was like, ‘Oh no, we’re not so supposed to be here,’” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore. “We made a bad turnover and they got the goal right back, and that turned out to be it. We had a game plan coming in; we had to keep them to the perimeter and avoid odd-man rushes. The odd-man rush cost us there.”
The second period saw Air Force grow in confidence, and the play evened out a bit more. Denver still outshot the Falcons, but Air Force played stronger and stronger. The third period was more even as Denver outshot Air Force, 8-6, but the quality scoring opportunities were even.
Berkhoel made 16 saves to claim his 11th win of the season, while Polidor stopped 34 of the 36 Denver shots in a losing effort. Polidor’s record dropped to 9-9-0.
Denver returns to action next weekend with a pair of WCHA games at Minnesota. Air Force will faceoff at Colorado College on Friday night, before a four-point league game versus Niagara on Sunday.