COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Before Denver and Miami took to the ice Friday night, it was easy to appreciate the history between the teams’ head coaches.
Once the action started, it was impossible to ignore the game within a game between the two goalies.
Miami coach Enrico Blasi played and coached for eight years under Denver’s George Gwozdecky, but the mentor walked away with a 3-2 victory in the West Regional matchup at the World Arena. Despite the score, it was hard to tell which goalie had the better game.
“Some people will say some of his saves are unbelievable. I say, that’s just Adam Berkhoel,” Gwozdecky said. “I know we’ve got the best goaltender in the country.”
Berkhoel stopped everything in sight in the first period before the action calmed down for him, but Miami’s Brandon Crawford-West never got a break. He had to stop 30 shots just to keep the score close.
“When you get to this point of the season, you get great goaltending. The goalies were probably the two best players on the ice,” Blasi said.
It’s been said that goalies always like to get into a game by stopping a few shots. If that’s the case, Crawford-West started off right with a great save on a Denver two-on-one chance early in the first period.
Less than a minute later, however, Andy Greene’s defensive miscue gave the Pioneers numbers and room to shoot. Crawford-West saved the first shot but found himself flailing on the ice as Denver sent two more tries at the net.
Denver’s Lukas Dora grabbed the rebound and found Ryan Caldwell on the right side of the crease for the opening, shorthanded goal.
Miami winger Greg Hogeboom had a chance to answer shortly thereafter when he skated free in front of the net, but he sent his backhand try wide left.
Shots on goal were even at nine after one period, but the credit for the Pioneers’ one-goal advantage on the scoreboard goes to Berkhoel, who literally did flips to keep the lead.
With four minutes left in the first period, Berkhoel fell to the ice with legs split to stop Marty Guerin’s shot. The rebound went right to the stick of Taylor Hustead, who ripped a low shot right into Berkhoel’s outstretched glove.
Shortly after, Greene sent Berkhoel into a somersault with a try to the short side that Berkhoel stopped with the back of his leg.
“For whatever reason, I tried to make a Hollywood save,” Berkhoel said. “Luckily enough, I got my pad up in time and just stopped it.”
Denver junior Matt Laatsch increased the lead 2:25 into the second period with a blast from about 30 feet out that somehow made it through traffic in front of the net and by a seemingly surprised Crawford-West, who had barely reacted by the time the puck bounced back out onto the ice.
The RedHawks nearly let a third goal slip into the net, but the tide turned when Andy Nelson corralled the loose puck and sent it ahead to Brian Sipotz, who then found Marty Guerin behind Denver’s defense.
Guerin ripped a slapshot to Berkhoel’s left side to make the score 2-1 Denver 7:04 into the second period and take away Berkhoel’s opportunity for an 11th career shutout. Berkhoel is second all-time in school history behind Gerry Powers (1966-69).
Denver fought off a pair of nearly back-to-back Miami power plays at the end of the second period … barely. With seconds winding down in the period and the power play, Berkhoel lost his stick behind the net and gloved a last-second shot to take the lead into the final period.
The Olympic-sized ice rink played to Denver’s advantage.
“We’ve had a lot of success on the big ice this year. There are not too many teams that can keep up with us here,” Caldwell said.
At that point, Denver had nearly twice as many shots on goal (28 to 15) after sending 19 tries at the net in the second period.
Any plans of a Miami rally went underground when Sipotz was charged with a five-minute checking-from-behind major and was subsequently kicked out of the game. One minute later, Denver’s on-ice advantage increased to 5-on-3 after Hogeboom picked up a slashing minor.
With Denver fans pleading for their team to shoot and the two-man advantage wasting away, Matt Carle eased a pass to Brett Skinner, who let a slapshot fly from right in front of the net to cinch the game.
“I don’t know if I blasted it home or not, but it went in,” Caldwell said.
Miami had a two-man advantage for 48 seconds in the final four minutes of the game, but didn’t capitalize until Matt Davis tipped a rebound past Berkhoel’s left shoulder for a power-play goal with 2:23 to play.
Miami appeared rejuvenated and pulled Crawford-West with one minute left, to no avail.
“I think there is no question we have the talent to come back here next year,” said Miami’s Matt Christie.