DENVER — The Seawolves of Alaska-Anchorage and the Denver Pioneers battled tooth and nail to end a dramatic game Saturday night at Magness Arena. But it was a small video monitor at ice level that had everyone’s attention in Denver’s 3-2 overtime win.
Jeff Drummond finished off a phenomenal give-and-go play with linemate Kevin Ulanski just to the left of the goalmouth to get the apparent winning goal. But as Ulanski and Drummond began to celebrate, play continued as it appeared that UAA goalie Nathan Lawson had made the save before the puck crossed the goal line.
Several more shots were taken by the Pioneers before a stoppage in play led to a video review, where it was determined, after much deliberation, that Lawson gloved the puck within the goal, giving Denver (18-6-1, 13-4-1 WCHA) the win and the series sweep.
“It was an unbelievable pass. [Ulanski] caught me off guard with a great play,” said Drummond, who admitted he couldn’t initially tell if the goal was scored. “At the time when I first shot it I couldn’t really tell if it was [a goal]. Then I heard Gabe [Gauthier] screaming and yelling, saying it was in.”
“It was a goal and the league got it right and obviously we were the beneficiary,” said DU head coach George Gwozdecky. “More importantly it was the right call.”
The Seawolves (7-14-3, 5-13-2 WCHA) wanted to avenge the 8-4 drubbing they suffered on Friday night and adjust to a Denver offense that was firing on all cylinders. As the first period got underway, it appeared that physical play and tighter defense was the approach UAA planned to take.
The bad blood that seeped into Friday’s contest continued in earnest during the opening period. Denver forward Gauthier received a 10-minute misconduct after shooting the puck after the whistle. Shea Hamilton — UAA’s ejectee from Friday night — engaged in some pushing and shoving and was sent to the box for two minutes.
The four-on-four that ensued set a quick tempo that allowed both squads to get quality chances in the first half of the period. Lawson looked sharp at the outset for UAA, snatching a Ryan Helgason wrist shot with a quick glove and getting good position to stifle another early Pioneer chance.
“He’s been superb in the pipes for us lately,” said UAA coach John Hill of his freshman goalie. “He deserves better than what we’ve been giving him.”
But like the previous night’s game, the Alaska-Anchorage defense allowed Denver forwards to get position in front of Lawson — a tendency that led to the night’s first goal. Pioneer winger Mike Handza got behind the Seawolves’ defense and was all alone in the slot for a pass from defenseman Jussi Halme. From there, Handza had time to make one deke before backhanding the puck past Lawson at 9:37 of the first.
“It gets old having the video session after games and it’s full of negatives. We keep seeing the same mistakes,” Hill said. “It’s all mental. As soon as this group begins to mentally prepare for games we’ll do better.”
The second period saw a much tighter style employed by both teams, and a much improved defensive game from the Seawolves. Lawson thwarted a couple of DU chances, including one sensational glove save against DU’s Luke Fulghum, who victimized Lawson for three goals the previous night, on a breakaway.
Good forechecking by Alaska-Anchorage put the Seawolves in position to tie the game. Forwards Lee Green and Ales Parez were pinching off a passing lane in the Pioneer zone when Denver forward Geoff Paukovich fell to the ice and lost the puck. Parez pounced on the puck and drove in on Denver netminder Peter Mannino, ripping a top-shelf goal to tie the game 1-1.
“They performed well tonight. They showed a lot more aggression and took a lot of our transition game away,” said Gwozdecky about the improved play of the Seawolves.
Mannino agreed that the Pioneers expected, and received, a better all-around game from Alaska-Anchorage.
“We were prepared. We knew they were going to come out hard,” Mannino said. “They’re a good team. They showed that tonight.”
Denver had a couple of power-play chances late in the second period, but unlike the first game of the series, the Pioneers couldn’t convert and had some difficulty setting up in the Seawolves’ end. Alaska-Anchorage’s penalty killers closed off passing lanes and disrupted shots to kill both man-advantage opportunities.
In the third period, however, the Pioneers converted their first power-play goal of the night when Gauthier redirected a Paul Stastny pass into the UAA net to put DU up 2-1. While Denver attempted to take hold of the game, the Seawolves kept up their aggressive attack and generated solid scoring chances throughout the final period.
“[Alaska-Anchorage] battled hard and beat us to loose pucks,” said Drummond. “They outmuscled us.”
Mannino was steady in net despite the barrage and kept the Seawolves from tying the game. But with 1:01 remaining, Parez took a drop pass from just outside the left faceoff circle and launched a floating shot that fooled Mannino and tied the game at 2.
“Matt Carle came down to block [the shot] and I did the same thing,” Mannino said. “I got kind of screened and lost it.”
Now that the Seawolves had new life and Lawson was playing with confidence, the capacity crowd in Denver held its breath for overtime. Both teams furiously tried to control the puck, but it was the Pioneers who made the most of their chances when they had possession in the UAA end. At the 2:38 mark of overtime the win became official.
“I respect our league’s officials and the officials on the ice,” said Hill. “The [video] official told me he was 100 percent conclusive that it was a goal. Denver deserves the win. We’ll live with it.”
Gwozdecky was happy with his team’s overtime effort. “We knew if we could pursue them hard in their own zone deep, we’d be able to create a lot of chances on the transition.”
Mannino also noted the support he received from teammates late in the game as a factor in the win and his confidence in the overtime period.
“We wanted both wins really bad,” said Mannino (10-2-0). “I think our guys played incredible and that’s all you can ask for as a goalie.”