MINNEAPOLIS — In a clash billed as one of offense versus defense, the Denver Pioneers showed they know how to turn the one into the other.
Friday night at Mariucci Arena, No. 1 Denver won its 12th straight game, defeating fourth-ranked Minnesota 3-1. The Pioneers scored two shorthanded goals on the same Gopher power play to take control of the game early in the third period.
Junior netminder Wade Dubielewicz steadied DU with a typically-sterling performance, stopping 34 shots to improve his save percentage to .949 and his goals against average to 1.55. Both marks are second-best in Division I.
“He’s our best player,” said alternate captain Chris Paradise. “When Dubie gets on a roll, you can tell how he’s going to play right off the bat.”
Despite the win, the Pioneers were not satisfied with their performance on the Gophers’ Olympic ice sheet.
“We had a little trouble with the big rink,” said Paradise, who noted several lapses due to Minnesota (17-5-4, 9-5-3 WCHA) forwards slipping free behind the defense.
“I think this is the first time in a long time that we really didn’t play well at all in certain aspects of the game,” agreed Dubielewicz. “We stole this game, and it’s a good feeling.”
The first-place Pioneers (23-2-0, 16-1-0 WCHA), who came in with the nation’s number-three penalty kill, cashed in against the Gophers’ fourth-best power play on goals by Max Bull and Greg Keith. Minnesota has now given up five shorthanders in its last four games.
Ironically, despite its PK prowess, Denver entered the evening with just one shorthanded goal on the season — and that off the stick of Bull, assisted by Keith, just three weeks ago against Wisconsin.
Dubielewicz set the tone immediately, stoning the returning Dan Welch from just outside the crease on the first shot of the game, then turning in another stop against John Pohl moments later.
“The first five minutes we had some good chances,” said Gopher coach Don Lucia. “[Dubielewicz] made the saves.”
The combatants offered up a surprisingly harmless first period, except for a breakaway for Minnesota’s Garrett Smaagaard. Denver captain Bryan Vines was forced to haul down Smaagaard in front at 14:24, but despite another chance for Pohl, Dubielewicz kept Minnesota off the board.
Denver, meanwhile, generated little offense, with its best chances coming off sloppy defensive play by Minnesota in its own zone. With the Pioneers kept largely on the perimeter and the Gophers unable to capitalize, the period ended scoreless.
Minnesota started the second period on the power play again, thanks to a trip by sophomore Bull, but was unable to score.
The Pioneers then took the lead on something resembling the old bait-and-switch. Less than six minutes in, Keith and Paul Martin tussled in front of the benches. With Minnesota apparently expecting a penalty to stop play, DU’s Ryan Caldwell slipped free and found senior defenseman Erik Adams along the boards in the Gopher zone. Adams cut to the high slot for a soft wrister that fluttered past Hauser.
A faceoff win in the Denver zone turned into the first Gopher goal eight minutes later. Center Matt Koalska won the puck back to Martin at the left point, and he skimmed the puck toward the net, where senior Pat O’Leary was there for the tip-in just inside the right post. O’Leary’s third goal of the season knotted matters at one at 13:35.
The teams traded power plays late in the period, with Greg Barber’s hook nullifying the final seconds of Matt DeMarchi’s interference penalty.
That was when the Pioneers got down to business.
A minute into the Gopher advantage, Martin failed to get his stick on a pass back to the point, then promptly fell down trying to recover as the biscuit skittered away. Bull chased down the loose puck at center ice, and with no one within shouting distance of him, deked to his left and smartly backhanded the shorthanded goal past Hauser’s blocker side with 12 seconds left in the period.
The Pioneers weren’t done abusing the Gopher power play. Seconds into the third period, with Minnesota still up a skater, Keith tipped the puck free along the boards, then led a three-on-one break. The native of Delta, B.C., ripped a slapshot from the right circle that dented twine just under the crossbar to make it 3-1 Denver.
Dubielewicz kept it a two-goal lead with a pair of nice saves at the 11-minute mark, including a sprawling grab of freshman Jake Fleming’s wrister from just outside the crease.
Minnesota mustered minimal pressure over the remaining minutes, with only Martin’s backhanded stuff attempt with five minutes to go qualifying as a quality scoring chance. Hauser left the Gopher net at 19:23, but Minnesota was unable to generate a shot on goal as the game ended.
“I have no complaints with how we played, other than that you can’t give up two shorthanded goals,” said Lucia. “We’ve just got to come back out and take another kick at the can.”
The teams face off for the final time in the regular season Saturday night at Mariucci. The drop of the puck is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. Central time.