CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Amid hopes of following in the footsteps of fellow WCHA member Minnesota and repeating as national champion, the 2004-05 campaign for defending titleist Denver has gotten off to a rocky start.
Returning to the beloved city of Boston where the Pioneers captured their national title last April, 1-0 over Maine, No. 11 Denver fell 6-2 to No. 2 Boston College Friday night for its second straight loss to open the season.
“With the kind of team we have this year, the best thing that we could do is be tested right off the bat by good competition,” said Denver head coach George Gwozdecky, while admitting that he believed his team was improved from last weekend’s 5-2 loss against No. 5 Minnesota. “These are the games that let you measure exactly where your players are at.”
The heroes for BC were a couple of likely candidates as well as a highly-touted rookie. Senior netminder Matti Kaltiainen made 19 saves including a couple of clutch ones late in the game, and junior Patrick Eaves tallied a goal and three assists on the night. Two of Eaves’ helpers came setting up rookie linemate Dan Bertram for his first two career goals.
“We’re pretty dynamic together,” said Eaves of playing with linemates Ryan Shannon and Bertram. The trio combined for three goals and five assists on the night. “[Bertram] has a lot of speed and is great skater. He’s really creative with the puck.”
“I was a little nervous,” admitted Bertram. “The first game is always the hardest to play, so it’s nice to get it under your belt.”
BC got things going on the power play early in the first. With Denver’s Andrew Thomas serving a penalty for holding, Eaves buried a loose puck at the left post into a wide open net to give the Eagles a lead 4:02 into the game.
“[The puck] hit the goalie’s blocker and then hit me in the arm and dropped right down,” said Eaves. “I guess it was a bit of a birthday present.”
BC expanded the lead at 13:34, this time shorthanded. Chris Collins, forechecking in the left corner, stole the puck from a Denver defenseman and went on net. Pioneers goaltender Peter Mannino (21 saves), making his first career start, tried to poke-check Collins but the puck went off the netminder’s stick, over his right shoulder and in for the 2-0 lead.
Floodgates seeming to open, BC extended the lead again before period’s end as Bertram scored on a breakaway at 18:18. Having just served a high-sticking infraction, Bertram took a home-run pass from Eaves as the penalty expired and fired low on the short side of Mannino to give the Eagles a three-goal lead through one.
Mannino and Denver settled down in the second, a period that lacked flow with a constant parade to the penalty box. And late in the frame, as it appeared BC’s 3-0 lead would hold up through two, Denver climbed back.
With 1:32 remaining, rookie Ryan Dingle picked up his first career goal when he redirected a Tom May centering pass to the short side on Kaltiainen, pulling the Pioneers within two.
Seconds later it appeared that Denver had struck again. Defenseman Brett Skinner pinched on the right wing and looked to backhand a shot under an outstretched Kaltiainen. Referee Tim Benedetto, though, ruled the puck was kicked into the net and disallowed the goal, maintaining BC’s two-goal edge.
BC regained the three-goal cushion midway through the third. Ryan Murphy won a footrace to a loose puck at center ice and walked in alone, pushing the puck past Mannino as the rookie attempted a poke-check.
A late Denver 5-on-3 power play drew the Pioneers within two when Jon Foster scored his third goal in two games. But BC added two late tallies, one by Bertram with an open net at 18:33, and the Eagles’ second shorthanded goal of the game by Dave Spina, with 50 seconds remaining.
As many games have early this season, Friday’s contained plenty of special teams. Both teams had 10 power plays, connecting once each, while BC added the two shorthanded goals.
According to Gwozdecky, his team’s makeup doesn’t exactly support that style of play.
“Sometimes you know that you have a team that is going to be able to take advantage of power plays and sometimes you have a team where you think you’d sure like to be able to play even strength,” said Gwozdecky. “At this point, we’re more of the latter.
“Everybody knew this was coming in and the way the game would be called. As the players get used to it, you’ll see less and less being called but there’s no doubt it can be a little disruptive.”
For BC, the win came at a price. The Eagles lost number-one defenseman Andrew Alberts, who tore his MCL in the first period and is expected to miss four to six weeks.
“That’s a tough way to start, but I guess it’s part of the season,” said head coach Jerry York.
BC extended its winning streak in opening games to eight. The last Eagles team to lose an opener was the 1996-97 club, which dropped its first game to Bowling Green. That was the last BC team to finish the season under .500.
BC is idle for the remainder of the weekend and will return to action Tuesday night when it travels to Massachusetts-Lowell for its Hockey East opener.
Denver will remain in its “title” city for one more game to face Northeastern on Saturday.