DENVER — Before a near-sellout crowd of 6,096, the #11 Denver Pioneers rode a strong performance in net by Glenn Fisher to steal a 1-0 win over Michigan Tech.
The visiting Huskys came out playing physical hockey, getting off several crushing checks, and had an excellent chance to get up on the Pioneers early when Pioneer junior Geoff Paukovich was called for a five-minute major for boarding. However, the Huskys only got one shot off.
“I don’t think we were very sharp in the first period, but our power play struggles, that’s no secret,” said Husky coach Jamie Russell. “I think we’re at the bottom of the nation in terms of our power play. Give them credit, they had a big kill on the five-minute major to start the game and they had a good first period.”
The Pioneers managed to keep the Huskys to the outside the whole period. Husky senior Tyler Skworchinski had their best chance, getting off a backhand from the right side that handcuffed Fisher, but the shot rolled off his arm wide.
As the period went on, the Pioneers started to use their speed to create more offensive chances, keeping the Huskys on their heels. Late in the period, Pioneer freshman Tyler Ruegsegger played the puck off the boards and got behind the Husky defense, forcing Husky sophomore Geoff Kinrade to take a slashing penalty.
Right off the face-off, Brock Trotter got the Pioneers on the board, taking a shot from the bottom of the right circle that banked off Husky defenseman Mark Malekoff. Ryan Dingle and Keith Seabrook assisted on the goal.
Between periods, the Pioneers honored 2006 Hobey Baker Matt Carle, who had been in town to help the San Jose Sharks defeat the Colorado Avalanche Wednesday night. Carle skated out in his old Pioneer jersey and held up the Hobey Baker trophy to the roar of the crowd.
The second period started with more of the same, but as it wore on, the Huskys started to use their size to their advantage and getting more shots on net, outshooting the Pioneers 12-4. Fisher just stopped sophomore Derek Kitti’s excellent deflection, and less than a minute later stoned junior Jimmy Kerr alone on the right side.
Pioneer coach George Gwozdecky believes Fisher is playing at a new level this year.
“He’s playing the best that I’ve ever seen him play, no question about it. Tonight he showed me again why I think he’s top notch. He’s playing with a confidence and a poise and making it very, very difficult on the opposition and really giving us a chance. Tonight, all night long, especially in the second period he gave us a chance to win the game.”
Shortly after Fisher stopped Kerr, the Huskys had a chance to seize momentum when they had a 5-on-3 power play for almost two minutes. However, they were unable to get any shots from inside, as the Pioneer penalty killers aggressively charged the Husky defenseman and prevented them from getting any passes down low.
“We had to really rely on strong defensive plays, and that’s what won the game for us,” said Gwozdecky. “At times, when certain parts of your game aren’t functioning very well you have to rely on other parts of your game to be strong and it (the penalty kill) was tonight.”
Late in the period, Husky goaltender Michael-Lee Teslak stopped Ruegsegger alone in front, and got a bit of luck when Trotter hit the left post on the rebound.
In the third period, the Huskys continued to put relentless pressure on the Pioneers, outshooting them 16-5. Despite several excellent chances, they were unable to beat Fisher. Early in the period, Kinrade broke down the right side and got off a snap shot and Fisher had difficulty controlling the rebound. However, with Fisher out of position, Drew Dobson’s shot was stopped by Pioneer Chris Butler, who cleared it from the open net.
“We turned the puck over in the offensive zone so often tonight, on the power play, at even strength, and when you turn the puck over you’re going to be caught and outnumbered,” said Gwozdecky. “It was one of those games where for us it was a little ugly as the game wore on, but you’ve got to win games like that.”
The Pioneers did have a few chances to build on their lead. During a power play, Butler rang a slap shot off the crossbar, and during a 5-on-3, Ruegsegger fanned on a shot while looking at an open net.
Late in the period, Fisher stopped Jordan Foote on a point blank shot. That was the Huskys’ last good chance, as Justin St. Louis took a penalty for holding at 18:11 and the Pioneers used the power play to pin the Huskys in their end.
“You’re not going to have everything always go your way, and for a team like ours that’s in transition right now with young guys, we made a lot of young guy mistakes, but we made some old guy mistakes too,” said Gwozdecky. “It’s a little bit easier to teach them when you win than it is when you lose.”