DENVER — After a 1-2-0 start in its first three games — all on the road — defending NCAA champion Denver couldn’t wait to get back home.
And the friendly confines of Magness Arena were kind once again as the Pioneers used lightning-quick penalty killing to beat the St. Cloud State Huskies 5-2 Friday night.
Junior center Gabe Gauthier led the way with two shorthanded goals for the Pioneers in the second period, pacing a relentless forecheck that caused the Huskies to play back on their heels even with the man advantage.
“We knew [the Huskies] were slow getting back on defense,” Gauthier said. “We had a lot more speed on the transition than they did.”
The first frame was a sluggish affair as the two teams tried to find their legs. Both teams were unable to convert on numerous power-play chances, including two 5-on-3 advantages for Denver. The Pioneers set up in the Husky zone, but lost the puck along the boards throughout the first period.
“We’ve got to have our team read the power play better,” said Denver coach George Gwozdecky, who earned his 225th win at DU. “If we lose possession of the puck — especially when we’re a man up — we’ve got to get it back.”
Both teams were called early on for holding and interference penalties as the crackdown on clutch-and-grab hockey continued. St. Cloud was the beneficiary of one of those calls midway through the first, and got good pressure in front of Denver goalie Glenn Fisher. Husky forwards Mike Doyle and captain Dave Iannazzo set screens at the top of the crease, and Doyle almost sneaked a tip-in by Fisher before the sophomore goaltender got his left pad on the redirected puck.
At the other end of the ice, sophomore goalie Tim Boron made some impressive saves, even as his defensemen dropped coverage in front of him. The Winnipeg, Man., native made the save of the night when Denver left wing Luke Fulghum pounced on a missed pass at the blueline and charged in alone, only to have his shot ripped out of the air by the quick glove of Boron.
The Pioneers began the second by dictating a new and furious pace to the game. Within the first minute, the Pioneers’ penalty killing unit was on the ice, and Gauthier streaked down the left wing as a puck was mishandled during a Husky line change, and put the first goal of the game past Boron.
But St. Cloud struck back with a strong penalty-killing forecheck of its own that seemed to confuse the Pioneers, and as Fisher came out to play the puck on a routine dump-in, the Huskies capitalized with an aggressive play that saw savvy freshman center Matt Francis get the puck away from Fisher’s pokecheck. Francis set up a streaking Peter Szabo for a one-timer at the 6:48 mark of the second period.
Denver had a dismal night with the man advantage, going 0 for 10. “We know we’re a fast team, but we can’t always win like that,” said sophomore defenseman Matt Carle, who has three points in four games this year for the Pioneers. “We have to play as a team, and on the power play we just handed [the puck] to them.”
Soon after St. Cloud tied things up at 1, the Pioneers struck again as center Geoff Paukovich streaked down the right-wing boards and launched a wrist shot that Boron thought he had gloved, but that managed to trickle down to the goal line. Paukovich, a 6-4, 215-pound freshman, slammed the puck past Boron to give DU a 2-1 lead.
“We’ve tried to consistently beat teams by out-battling them,” said Paukovich, who has two goals on the season. “I just went to the net and tried to follow up.”
“That was a big goal for us,” Gwozdecky said of the rebound. “We pound on the players in practice that when you shoot, you follow your shot, and that’s exactly what Geoff did.”
A second shorthanded goal for Gauthier made the score 3-1 in favor of the Pioneers at the midway point of the second, but controversy arose, costing the Huskies a goal that would have cut the Denver lead to 3-2.
An apparent tip-in by Iannazzo on a shot by Francis was disallowed when a video review revealed that Iannazzo was in the crease, and that Fisher was interfered with. However, St. Cloud pulled within one anyway late in the second, when sophomore forward Nate Raduns redirected a shot past Fisher in a strange play that quieted the crowd of 6,022 and seemed to give life to the Huskies.
Nevertheless, Denver held off an intense Husky offensive early in the third, and maintained its lead before late tallies by Jeff Drummond and Jon Foster sealed the game for DU (3-1-1, 1-0 WCHA).
As time wound down, things got chippy and players from both sides were off the ice, setting the stage for Saturday’s repeat showdown.