COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Very little about Thursday night’s contest between No. 10 Denver and No. 5 Colorado College was pretty. Paul Stastny’s pair of goals, the first and last of the game, proved all the highlights that the visitors would need, however, as the Pioneers captured an ugly 5-4 victory over the Tigers.
Stastny’s bookend goals gave the Pioneers a chance to clinch second place in the WCHA at home Friday night against the Tigers, as well as collect a series sweep against their in-state rivals.
After both teams had escaped the shooting gallery that was regulation play, Denver took advantage of a missed check by Colorado College defenseman Brian Salcido to win its third of the season against the Tigers. Stastny tapped in a post-to-post pass from J.D. Corbin, a goal that virtually replicated Denver’s first goal of the night.
“Stastny made a great move to get open,” described an ecstatic Corbin. “If we were going to have a chance to score, I knew I was going to have to wait for him to catch up, and he did a great job of escaping and getting free.”
Denver (20-13-2, 17-8-2 WCHA) head coach George Gwozdecky praised the junior whose game-winning assist capped what was already a well-played game.
“Having guys like J.D. who know what big games are all about is such an asset,” he said. “Those guys all look at pressure as an opportunity to do well.”
The Pioneers’ first goal just three minutes into the contest looked much the same as their last, with the only difference coming in the set-up man. Ryan Dingle broke in on an unsuspecting CC defense with Stastny on his left wing. Dingle fed a clean pass over to his classmate, who buried the shot into an open side for his 14th of the season.
Colorado College (23-13-1, 15-11-1) tied the game just three minutes later with a lucky goal. Following a strong rush up ice by J.P. Brunkhorst, the puck squirted free to Trevor Frischmon along the left boards. Frischmon lifted the puck innocently towards the front of the net, catching slow-moving Denver netminder Glenn Fisher off guard. The rubber bounded off of Fisher’s back and into the net, knotting the score at 1.
The Tigers took advantage of a two-man advantage midway through the first period to take their first lead of the game. After an initial shot from Chad Rau snapped off the outside of the cage, the freshman collected his own rebound and fed an open Brett Sterling on the far post for a tap-in one-timer.
Denver answered with a power-play goal of its own, however. Dingle potted his 24th goal of the campaign with three minutes remaining in the period to quiet the otherwise raucous crowd. After an emotional and particularly sloppy first period, both teams settled for a 2-2 tie.
“In a game like this, there are always nerves that affect the early part of games until guys start to get into the flow of things,” explained Gwozdecky. “Both teams had some sloppy play early on, and we certainly had our share of it.”
The Pioneers took an ever-so-brief one-goal lead three minutes into the second period on the power play. Adrian Veideman redirected a shot from Tom May past CC goaltender Matt Zaba for a 3-2 lead. But the Tigers answered less than a minute later to tie the score once again.
Sterling showed why he’s the nation’s leading goal-scorer with an exhibition of strength; the senior fought off a defender from the offensive blue line and sent a backhander past Fisher to knot the score at 3-3.
The Tigers grabbed their second lead of the night eight minutes into the frame. After a strong shift, CC defenseman Salcido fed a well-covered Derek Patrosso in front of the Pioneers net. Patrosso mustered only a weak redirection on net, but the shot caught Fisher off guard and slid over the line, giving Colorado College a 4-3 lead.
Three minutes later, Gwozdecky had seen enough from his shaky junior netminder, and sent in Peter Mannino in an effort to rally the struggling visitors. Following the goaltender change, the Pioneers seemed to settle down, and would score the game’s final two goals.
“When you’ve got the early juices flowing, that kind of thing happens,” said Corbin of his team’s early sloppy play. “We settled down as the game went on, and really got things going.”
Denver caught a break midway through the third period to tie the game once again. Veideman notched his second goal of the game when his slapshot from the blue line redirected off of a Tiger stick and knuckled past Zaba.
To add insult to injury for the Tigers, the Pioneers earned a two-man advantage and thus a prime advantage to regain the lead for the third time just two minutes later thanks to a too-many men call against Colorado College.
CC hunkered down and killed over 90 seconds of a five-on-three disadvantage, keeping the score tied with just five minutes to play in regulation. The Tigers failed to rally behind the momentum of the kill, however, and eventually surrendered a much-needed point in the extra frame.