GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Following Denver’s 3-1 loss to North Dakota on Friday, team captains Gabe Gauthier and Matt Carle had a discussion about what they needed to do to get the Pioneers back on track.
“Gabe and I were talking last night about what it’s going to take,” Carle said. “We needed to step up ourselves and show the other guys what it takes to be successful.”
In roaring back to championship form with a convincing 7-2 drubbing of the sixth-ranked Fighting Sioux, Carle scored two power play goals and Gauthier netted the game-winner and picked up an assist.
“We had to deal with a lot of injuries and battle through the adversity of playing here in North Dakota in one of the toughest rinks in the nation against one of the toughest teams in the nation,” Gauthier said. “The test was for ourselves to see if we could respond.”
And respond they did, much to Denver coach George Gwozdecky’s delight.
“I hate to use the term ‘Our backs against the wall,’ because it’s so early in the season,” he said. “But, boy, this might have been the defining moment of our season to see how we were going to respond. You need your go-to guys. You need your big players.”
Those players included not only Carle and Gauthier, two stalwarts from Denver’s 2004 and 2005 national championship teams, but also forward Paul Stastny with a goal and two assists and goalie Peter Mannino, who stopped 25 of 27 shots he faced.
The Pioneers skated just 10 forwards because of injuries, including a season-ending injury to freshman forward Brock Trotter. He had been leading Denver is scoring prior to suffering a severe cut to his ankle during Friday’s game. He underwent surgery for more than two hours following the game.
“He completely severed his Achilles heel tendon, along with two of the three major muscle groups that surround that area,” Gwozdecky said. “He won’t even be able to probably start skating for at least eight months. This is a very severe injury. It’s not career-threatening, but because of the severity of the injury it’s going to take a long time to rehab.”
For two periods, the game was closer than the final score indicated. After a scoreless first period, the teams combined for five second-period goals, putting the Pioneers up 3-2.
With Denver on the power play, Sioux forward Rylan Kaip attempted to clear the puck up the slot. But Carle intercepted it and rifled in a wrist shot past Sioux goalie Philippe Lamoureux to give the Pioneers a 1-0 lead at the 3:20 mark.
At 5:09, Denver went up 2-0 on sophomore forward Ryan Dingle’s fourth goal of the season. With Kaip in the box for cross checking, forward Adrian Veideman spotted Dingle alone to the right of the net and fed a pass to him from the blue line. Dingle stepped out in front of Lamoureux and put a backhander through his five hole.
But then it was Denver’s turn to get into penalty trouble and UND capitalized on the opportunity. As the Pioneers applied strong pressure forechecking in the Sioux zone, defenseman Matt Smaby spotted forward Chris Porter alone at Denver’s blue line and hit him with a long pass from UND’s goal line, sending him alone on Mannino. He beat the goalie cleanly and cut Denver’s lead to 2-1 at 8:17.
The Sioux tied the game 2-2 at 12:10 when freshman defenseman Taylor Chorney one-timed a pass from Brian Lee past Mannino. His 5-on-3 power play goal brought Sioux fans to life, and it seemed that the momentum had shifted back in UND’s favor.
At 14:54, Gauthier responded with the game winner. During a melee in front of the Sioux net, Gauthier found the puck, got Lamoureux down and shot it over him, giving the Pioneers a 3-2 lead at the end of the second period.
“That goal really boosted us up,” Gauthier said. “After we scored, it got the momentum going back again. We went in the dressing room, came back and took charge.”
To say the Pioneers took charge in the third period is putting it mildly. Just 1:34 in, Carle netted his second power play goal. Stastny patiently held the puck at the side of the goal before hitting Carle in the slot with a pass that he fired passed Lamoureux. At the 7:04 mark, junior forward Ryan Helgason fired a wrist shot through traffic to put Denver up 5-2.
With time becoming a factor, UND coach Dave Hakstol tried to jumpstart the Sioux by pulling Lamoureux for an extra attacker. Ten seconds later, Stastny scored an empty net goal at 16:43 to extend Denver’s lead to 6-2. The final goal came at 17:28 after forward Tom May found the rebound from Geoff Paukovich’s slapshot and stuffed it in.
“Our goaltender, we bailed on him,” said Porter, a Sioux assistant captain. “We’ve got to play for him, especially when things aren’t going right.”
The final half-minute of the game turned into a chippy affair with three Sioux players and a Denver player being tossed out. The players and coaches shook hands when it was over, but not before words were exchanged.
“I don’t care where you’re playing, if you’re getting beat, it’s hard on the pride,” Gwozdecky said. “Because of the great pride that both teams have, it’s difficult to accept outcomes at times. Both teams, I think, are classy and both teams, although a little chippy, handled it in the right way.”
Asked if the Sioux, who skated five freshman forwards and three freshman defensemen, showed their inexperience, Hakstol said the team learned a tough lesson the hard way.
“We can’t play the youth card on this one,” he said. “That’s not an acceptable reason or excuse. We have to learn that you come into the WCHA to close out a series sweep. I don’t care who it’s against. It’s very difficult, and you have to play extremely well.”
Denver, 3-3 overall and 1-1 in the WCHA, is at home Nov. 4-5 against Michigan Tech. UND, 5-2-1 overall and 1-1 in the WCHA, takes on Wisconsin Nov. 4-5 at home.