DENVER — The No. 11 Denver Pioneers took control of the game early against No. 10 Minnesota, building a 2-0 first-period lead, but were unable to withstand the Golden Gophers’ rally in a 4-3 loss tonight in front of 6,177 fans at Magness Arena.
Denver (5-5-2, 3-3-2 WCHA) went ahead 3-2 early in the third period on a goal by sophomore center Paul Stastny after Minnesota (6-3-3, 6-2-2) tied the game, but two goals by Kris Chucko in the final period proved to be the difference.
The Pioneers were led by a goal and an assist from senior left wing Gabe Gauthier. Sophomore right wing Ryan Dingle assisted on two DU goals while junior goaltender Peter Mannino made 22 saves.
Chucko scored his first two goals of the season in the third period, including the game winner, to lead Minnesota. The Golden Gophers’ Jeff Frazee made 26 saves to earn the victory.
“We had Minnesota exactly where we wanted them after getting a big goal to go ahead in the third period that had them flustered,” DU head coach George Gwozdecky said. “If there is a silver lining, which I told the team, is that we worked hard and came out prepared this weekend.”
Gauthier opened up the game’s scoring on the power play in the first period as he crept in from the left circle and wristed a shot past the glove side of Frazee at 6:13. The extra-man opportunity was created when Stastny was taken down in front of the Minnesota net on a cross check by defenseman Chris Harrington to prevent the center from collecting his rebound on a shot.
The Pioneers continued to put pressure on the Golden Gophers throughout the first period and built a 9-1 shot advantage eight minutes into the game. The effort paid off with their second goal at 12:38 after sophomore defenseman Matt Carle steered the puck across the ice from left to right to waiting junior right wing Ryan Helgason, who flipped it into the net for a 2-0 DU lead.
Pioneers junior center Mike Handza also was credited with his first assist of the season on Helgason’s goal.
In a gritty second period that featured a total of six penalties (2 by Minnesota, 4 by Denver) and several open-ice hits, Minnesota scored two goals to tie the game. The Golden Gophers tallied their first goal on the power play at 3:45 off a shot from Alex Goligoski from the left circle before knotting the game at 2-2 on left wing Mike Howe’s score at 16:26.
Fifty-nine seconds into the final period, Denver went ahead 3-2 on Stastny’s goal. Standing on the left side of the crease, Stastny banged a rebound off Dingle’s point-blank shot past a sprawled-out Frazee.
Minnesota took the lead for the first time later in the third period on two scores by Chucko, including the game winner.
With the Golden Gophers shorthanded after being whistled for too many men on the ice, Chucko swatted the puck into the net at 6:22 of the third period to tie the game 3-3. A little more than four minutes later, he put the Golden Gophers ahead 4-3 at 10:36 when he collected a loose puck in traffic and fired it past Mannino.
The Pioneers sent Mannino to the bench with 1:50 remaining and generated several quality scoring chances in the closing seconds but were unable to force the game into overtime.
Denver finished the game 1-for-5 on the power play while Minnesota was 1-for-4 on the man advantage. The teams combined for 13 penalties with Denver committing six infractions for 12 minutes and Minnesota totaling seven penalties for 14 minutes.