DENVER — On a night that saw Denver raise its banner commemorating the 2004 NCAA championship, the 2004-05 team wanted to make a statement about its potential to contend once again for the title.
That statement was made loud and clear as the Pioneers used three first-period goals and a stifling defense to beat the St. Cloud State Huskies 6-1 in the second game of their WCHA-opening series.
The first period saw St. Cloud trying to force the play — something it did not do well in Friday’s game in Denver. But the Huskies took two early penalties that slowed their momentum. The Pioneers did not convert on their first man advantage, but ended their power-play futility soon after when winger Jeff Drummond tipped in a Gabe Gauthier pass at the 3:55 mark of the first.
“Our coach has been telling us all week that if we keep working hard, good things will happen,” said Drummond of the first of his two goals Saturday. “With our first two league games, we had to come out strong.”
Like the previous night’s game, the new instant replay system being used at Colorado College and at DU’s Magness Arena came into play with a review of the goal. Fortunately for the Pioneers, the goal was allowed to stand.
St. Cloud had trouble getting breakout passes out of its zone, as Denver’s forwards pinched off passing lanes. This led to Denver’s second goal when center Ryan Dingle stole the puck from Husky defenseman T.J. McElroy behind the net. Sophomore left wing Brock McMorris grabbed the puck and got a low shot off the pads of St. Cloud goaltender Tim Boron, who was beaten on a short-side rebound shot by Denver winger Ryan Helgason for his first goal of the season.
Boron, a sophomore who got the start on Friday night as well, did make some good saves on Denver’s next power play, but yielded another goal to Drummond, who got a stick on Brett Skinner’s shot to redirect the puck into the net, and put the Pioneers up 3-0.
At the beginning of the second period, St. Cloud picked up its physical play, especially on the part of the top line of center Peter Szabo and wingers Mike Doyle and Dave Iannazzo. The line generated two 1-on-1 scoring chances for Iannazzo with solid hits that caused Denver forwards to cough up the puck in the neutral zone, but Denver freshman netminder Peter Mannino came up big with consecutive pad saves on the Husky captain.
“Peter’s a very competitive player,” said DU coach George Gwozdecky of his rookie netminder. “He was really looking forward to making a statement tonight.”
St. Cloud’s penalty killers — despite giving up one goal — were much better defensively, cutting off interior passes in the slot and roughing up the DU forwards. Nonetheless, the Huskies seemed a step slower than the Pioneers for the second night in a row.
For the second time in the game — and the third time in two nights — a goal was reviewed after Denver’s Jon Foster, whose goal streak was extended to five games, broke in alone on Boron during a delayed penalty and jammed the puck under his pads for his sixth of the year. The Husky bench protested because they felt a Husky player had made contact with the puck, but the goal was allowed to stand.
“It was just one of those nights where nothing goes right. We lost all three reviews [in the two-game] series,” said St. Cloud head coach Craig Dahl, who ironically felt his team played better in Saturday’s rout than in Friday’s opener. “I felt better about our work ethic, but we just didn’t play with a lot of jump as the game went on. It was a good learning game; we found some things we need to work on.”
St. Cloud senior Szabo echoed the feelings of the Huskies regarding the second replay. “You can’t do anything about [the replay]. On the goal, our guy touched the puck, and the ref didn’t see it.”
From that point on, the Pioneers controlled the play and got a goal from Dingle and a breakaway marker by right wing J.D. Corbin.
Though his shutout bid was broken by St. Cloud defenseman Justin Fletcher just over three minutes into the third period, Mannino had a solid game in his first start since losing 6-2 to Boston College in his debut.
“I just wanted to get that first home game under my belt and I felt I rallied with my team,” Mannino (24 saves) said. The freshman said his ability to see through the traffic created by the St. Cloud forwards and made the difference on his key stops on odd-man rushes. “I just had to get low and in position. I got some good looks … it was a real confidence booster.”
Last year’s Denver team was celebrated by a sellout crowd of 6,087 before the game, and despite the distractions, Gwozdecky was pleased with how his current team performed.
“I can’t remember when I’ve been more concerned with how our team was going to respond,” said Gwozdecky of the celebratory atmosphere of DU’s banner-raising homecoming game. “The second game of the series is always the most difficult to win … [but] when that puck dropped, I knew [we] were ready to go.”
The Pioneers (2-0-0 conference, 3-2-0 overall) go on the road next week for a weekend tilt at Wisconsin, which also won its first two WCHA matches this weekend and stands undefeated after four games.
St. Cloud State (0-2-0 conference, 2-3-1 overall) will head to Ivy League country for road games against Princeton on Friday, and Yale on Saturday.