DENVER — Denver showed signs of turning a corner on Saturday night, controlling play for the full 60 minutes and cruising to a 5-1 victory over Colorado College. The win gave DU a home-and-home sweep of its No. 2-ranked rivals.
While the Pioneers (8-6-2, 5-3-2 WCHA) were releasing their pent-up frustrations, it was the Tigers (12-5-1, 6-3-1) who were bottled up for most of the evening. Away from its larger, Olympic-sized home sheet, Colorado College failed to open up its transition game which has created so much of the team’s offense this season.
Denver capitalized on a power-play opportunity with less than a minute remaining in the first period to take a 1-0 lead. Freshman defenseman Chris Butler sent a soft wrist shot through traffic and past the screened Colorado College goalie Drew O’Connell for his fourth tally of the season.
The Pioneers’ man advantage came through again early in the second period to spot the home team to a 2-0 advantage. Denver team co-captain Gabe Gauthier’s long shot was turned aside by O’Connell, but Ryan Dingle cleaned up the rebound for his third goal of the weekend.
Colorado College sliced the Denver lead in half with a last second goal of its own–literally. Brian Salcido’s long snap shot from the blue line ricocheted behind Pioneers netminder Peter Mannino with just 0.7 seconds showing on the clock in the second period. It would be the only goal surrendered by the sophomore goaltender, who finished the night with 30 saves.
“We had great support from Mannino back in goal,” said Denver co-captain Matt Carle. “With a team as small and fast as CC is, sometimes you can only hope to contain them. That’s what the goalie is there for.”
Gauthier notched Denver’s third power-play tally of the night at 6:30 of the third to give the home team its second two-goal lead of the night. The senior parked himself at the right post and banged home a rebound for his 60th career goal.
The Pioneers put the game away with a shorthanded tally at 12:42. Colorado College’s Salcido mishandled a clearing effort by Denver, allowing J.D. Corbin to spring free on a breakaway. The junior cut across the slot, waited patiently for O’Connell to dive out of position, and flipped the puck over the goaltender’s outstretched glove.
Dingle collected his second goal of the night with less than four minutes remaining in the game. Once again a Denver forward capitalized on an O’Connell rebound, as Dingle escorted the loose rubber off of a Butler one-timer into an open cage with his team on the power play.
“The one thing that we’ve tried to emphasize in our game in general is crashing the net,” said Dingle, whose four tallies against Colorado College pushed his season total to a team-leading 12. “My weekend was a result of the exact same thing. I didn’t have any real pretty goals, but I crashed the net.”
Having gone winless in five straight games earlier this season, Denver has rebounded with three straight victories and is now tied for fourth in the WCHA.
“The last three weekends I think we’ve played extremely well,” said Pioneers head coach George Gwozdecky. “We’re playing better as we gain an understanding of how hard we have to play and how we have to execute. You can see the light coming on. We’re starting to get it.”
Denver players hope the series sweep marks a sign of positive consistency which has been lacking during the Pioneers rollercoaster season.
“It doesn’t get much better than this for our team,” said Carle. “This could for sure be a turning point for this team, especially beating a team of CC’s caliber.”
The Pioneers look to continue their strong play when they host league foe Alaska-Anchorage next weekend. Meanwhile, Colorado College will return home for a weekend series with Minnesota-Duluth.