DENVER — A non-conference home game against a team they have historically dominated seemed the perfect way for the Denver Pioneers to build on their recent success and get some momentum going into next weekend’s series against Colorado College. A 2-1 win over Air Force may have helped to build the momentum going into a rivalry weekend.
However, it was the Air Force Falcons who came out strong, putting pressure on the Pioneers and outshooting them 6-4 in the scoreless first period, holding the Pioneers without a shot on goal for the first five minutes.
While the Pioneers struggled to get shots on net, the Falcons just missed taking the lead on a power play when a shot by sophomore defenseman Michael Mayra rolled off senior netminder Glenn Fisher’s left shoulder and hit the crossbar,
The Pioneers had a momentary heart-attack moment when Fisher, who has been the Pioneers’ most consistent player this season, appeared shaken up after Falcons’ right wing Brian Reese crashed into him late in the period following a tip-in try. However, Fisher shook it off.
“I think there were a lot of momentum shifts during the game,” said Falcon coach Frank Serratore. “We were ready for Denver; when the game started we knew they would try to put us away in the first ten minutes and I think we countered that pretty well. They got us on our heels a bit in the second period.”
Despite being outshot again in the second period 10-9, the Pioneers’ special teams, led by junior Ryan Dingle, came up big. First, Dingle connected with linemate Brock Trotter for a beautiful power-play goal. Trotter, camped in the left corner, fed a perfect pass through the crease to Dingle coming down the right side, who had an open net to shoot at and put the Pioneers up 1-0.
“The first one was a good pass by Brock,” said Dingle. “Absolutely, I was looking for it. It’s a play that we’ve been working on. It’s there occasionally; a lot of teams look for it but fortunately it was open for us.”
A minute and a half later, while shorthanded, Dingle picked up the puck just behind the Falcon defense and turned on the speed to get a breakaway and beat Falcon goalie Peter Foster with a wrist shot from the top of the circle high glove side.
“I had one step and I saw Foster cheating to my left side, his right side, saw an opening and went for it,” said Dingle.
“Your special teams are going to win it or lose it for you,” said Pioneer coach George Gwozdecky. “We’re relying on so many inexperienced players in our lineup that we knew going in that until we became dynamic offensively and solid defensively that we’re going to have to rely on our goaltending. Glenn and Peter have both been very solid for us. I think slowly the rest of them are starting to catch up in their play with how Glenn and Peter have played. Is it a concern? No, because I knew it was probably going to be like this.”
Despite these miscues, the Falcons regrouped and pressured Fisher. Senior Andrew Ramsey hit the crossbar with a canon of a slap shot on a breakaway, and freshman Matt Fairchild got a breakaway, but a timely hook by Chris Butler prevented a shot.
Late in the period, the Falcons’ hard work was rewarded. Moments after Dingle missed an open net off a rebound, junior Eric Ehn, who leads the nation in scoring, knocked the puck out of mid-air past Fisher, who thought it was a high stick, and the goal stood upon review.
In the third period, the Falcons continued to generate chances, keeping the Pioneers pinned in their zone for several stretches, but Fisher stood strong again, coming up with crucial saves any time the Falcons got a good scoring chance.
“I’m happy to rely on Glenn,” said Dingle. “Glenn and Peter both; they’re doing a great job; they’re sealing the deal when necessary and you know, that’s one thing that we’re happy with in our team right now.”
After the game, Gwozdecky acknowledged that Fisher’s continued strong play is making it more difficult to stick with his original plan of rotating Fisher and Peter Mannino.
“I don’t know if it makes it harder to go with Peter but there’s no question that with Glenn playing the way he is it’s making our decision more difficult, without a doubt. I don’t know what we’re going to do. We’ll probably have a decision made within the next 2-3 hours, so if you want to call me back at that point you can,” Gwozdecky laughed.
Serratore feels that the Falcons need to take the next step against ranked teams. “We’ve played enough against these types of teams that we’re kind of by that now, and it’s like, When the hell are we going to get one of these done? To be honest with you, the pleasing thing is I didn’t like our second period, but jeez, we hit a crossbar, and we got a goal at the end of the period and it was a 2-1 period. I thought we played a good strong third period, but we couldn’t get the puck in the net.”