DENVER — Paul Stastny may not yet have the notoriety of his NHL Hall of Fame father, Peter. But the Denver freshman gave the crowd at Magness Arena a taste of some inherited offensive greatness, as his two goals fueled the No. 11 Pioneers’ 5-2 win over No. 3 Minnesota.
Stastny’s second goal was the play of the night, and gave Denver a two-goal cushion to seal the win. Fighting for the puck along the boards behind the Gopher net, Stastny finally gained control of the puck. Stastny (4-6-10 this season) made a savvy fake past Minnesota freshman Derek Peltier, then skated around to the front of the net on his backhand, and scored a beautiful wraparound to the far post to beat Briggs.
“We were just cycling the puck for a long time, and I saw [the Gophers] wearing out,” Stastny said. “I just wanted to get around [the net] and then I was able to stuff it in.”
Stastny’s performance gave a boost to the Pioneers, who clawed back from three goals down on Friday night only to come up short in a 5-4 loss. Sophomore standout defenseman Matt Carle — who earned an assist on Stastny’s first goal — felt confident in the play of the team’s five freshmen, and pointed to their contributions as a main reason for the Pioneers’ energetic play on Saturday.
“We knew [the freshmen] could contribute a lot from the start,” said Carle.
Although neither team came out particularly crisp at the outset Saturday, Denver was more aggressive, especially in the corners. The Gophers had a difficult time getting passes to the inside, and settled for outside shots.
The Pioneers had success early in getting positioning at the net, and that positioning paid off with the first score from Stastny. Denver winger Jon Foster got a shot off that caromed off the pads of Gopher goalie Kellen Briggs (31 saves) and Stastny put the rebound over Briggs’ shoulder at 7:58 of the first.
“On Friday night we really didn’t test [Briggs] with a lot of pucks,” Carle said. “We wanted to get more bodies in front tonight.”
Minnesota picked things up on the forecheck, and got a couple of great chances, one of which rang off the post behind DU netminder Glenn Fisher. Soon after, the Gophers hit paydirt in front of the net when forward Tyler Hirsch (2-10-12) put a rebound chance under Fisher’s pads to tie the game at 1-1.
With both teams looking to get some kind of momentum, the hitting and chippy play increased. DU forward Geoff Paukovich was especially active, taking out Gophers all over the ice and clearing space in front of his net with his 6-4, 215-pound frame.
“They’ve got some big boys,” said Gophers center Jake Fleming. “They play a heavy checking game … that caused a couple of dumb mistakes and that cost us.”
Despite a fierce forecheck from the Pioneers, the Gophers rushed the DU net regularly in the middle of the second, just missing on point-blank chances. Fisher was active, making two sensational saves on Minnesota forwards in close.
This was Fisher’s first win since October 22, and there had been concern that the sophomore was slumping
“I think it bothered him, but he doesn’t let us see that,” Carle said of Fisher (3-3-0). “He did well tonight.”
Fleming agreed, pointing to Fisher’s timely stops in the second period. “He stood up and made some big saves for them,” Fleming said. “We didn’t get the bounces on him tonight.”
Denver seemed to be gaining some ground later in the period, but after a late slashing penalty on Pioneer forward Adrian Veideman, Minnesota cashed in. Outstanding tape-to-tape passing along the blueline by the Gopher defensemen and a quick cross-ice pass from Danny Irmen down low set up Ryan Potulny for the one-timer that put the score at 2-1, Minnesota. Irmen and Potulny also kept their individual point streaks going at 11 straight games.
It appeared that for the second night in a row, the Gophers would benefit from a late second-period goal to take wind out of the Pioneers’ sails. But DU forwards Jeff Drummond and Kevin Ulanski used their speed to get a 2-on-1 chance less than two minutes after Potulny scored. Drummond held the puck until the last moment, feeding Ulanski for the equalizer with only 38 seconds left in the period.
The third period opened with the Pioneers having outshot Minnesota 26-16 through the first two frames. While the Gophers got some looks early in the period, they began to fall back into their zone, and DU made the most of it. A bouncing puck made its way through the slot to the stick of DU senior defenseman Jussi Halme, who gained control of the puck through two Minnesota defenders and backhanded his first goal of the season past Briggs.
“Being tied 2-2 going into the third period in Denver’s rink was a good position to be in,” said Minnesota defenseman Chris Harrington, who made his share of big hits against the Pioneer forwards. “We didn’t play very well defensively in the third.”
The Gophers had chances at various times through the third, including Garrett Smaagaard’s well-timed interception at the blueline of a Pioneer clearing pass that the Minnesota senior took in alone on Fisher. Carle made a smart backcheck that deflected Smaagaard’s shot and stifled the scoring chance.
Soon after, Stastny’s second goal of the night sealed the deal for the Pioneers, who finished 1-2-0 against the Gophers this season — though one loss, in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game, doesn’t count in the WCHA standings.
An empty-net tally at 19:31 by Jeff Drummond made the score 5-2 as the Pioneers avenged Friday’s loss.
“We always want to show energy,” said Stastny, who admitted his team wasn’t ready to play in the first two periods Friday. “You’ve got to take the positive out of the third period last night and build on it.”
The Pioneers have had a bad habit of late starts thus far this season, but seem to have another gear later in the game, a fact that did not escape Carle on Saturday.
“It’s good to know we’re going to be bringing it at the end of the game,” said Carle.
The Pioneers (6-5-0, 5-3-0 WCHA)are home against Boston University on Friday, and stay at Magness for Saturday’s game versus Massachusetts.
Minnesota (8-3-0, 6-2-0 WCHA) also has two home games next weekend against Michigan on Friday, then Michigan State Saturday night in the College Hockey Showcase.