DENVER — The opening game of the Wells Fargo Denver Cup between the Brown Bears and Mass.-Lowell River Hawks was a closely contested affair. Even overtime wasn’t enough, and after the first five shooters in the shootout, the teams were still tied.
River Hawks’ defenseman Jeremy Dehner ultimately got the game-winner on the sixth shot, sending the River Hawks into the championship game tomorrow night, earning Lowell their first win since November 4.
The River Hawks seemed the sharper team early on, outshooting the Bears 13-7 in the first period and generating excellent chances. The River Hawks used their speed to get the puck down low, testing Bears’ goaltender Dan Rosen often. Rosen made several excellent stops, including an acrobatic kick save with his left skate on a slap shot by Dehner.
“Our team’s got a lot of speed, and I think when we play our best is when we use our speed like we did tonight, and if we do that it puts us in a chance to win the game every night,” said Dehner.
Brown junior defenseman Paul Baier was strong for the Bears in the period, ringing a slap shot off the mask of River Hawks’ netminder Vinny Monaco and effectively quarterbacking the Bears’ power play.
“I thought the big issue tonight was we just weren’t skating; we weren’t moving. It was frustrating,” said Bears’ coach Roger Grillo.
Brown got on the board first at 4:26 of the second period on a great effort by sophomore Ryan Garbutt. Taking a pass at center ice from Jordan Pietrus, he broke down the right side and used a burst of speed to get by Dehner and backhand the puck through the five-hole.
After the goal, Brown seemed to get a boost. On a power play, they generated several excellent chances. Antonin Roux’s tip-in try of Jeremy Russell’s slap shot just went over the crossbar, and Jeff Prough stepped out from behind the net and fired a shot low that Monaco managed to get his pads on.
The River Hawks continued to press however, and used their forecheck to generate several great chances, outshooting the Bears 22-6 in the period.
The complexion of the game changed dramatically at 10:28 of the second. With Devin Timberlake in the box for charging, Roux was whistled for a five-minute major for hitting from behind. Roux also got a game misconduct, depriving the Bears of one of their leaders. Brown managed to kill off Timberlake’s penalty, but Lowell got on the board 1:53 into the five-minute major when senior Jason Tejchma, the River Hawks’ leading scorer, deflected Nick Schaus’ slap shot through the five-hole.
“We were playing well, outshooting them, outchancing them. I wasn’t sure we were ever going to score on that kid, so just to get a goal was a huge boost to our team,” said River Hawks’ coach Blaise MacDonald.
“I thought we were playing OK up to that point, not great, but we played terrible after that. For the rest of the second period, we were all over the place, and obviously losing one of our better players, one of our leaders, didn’t help either,” said Grillo.
Shortly after the goal, freshman Barry Goers had an excellent chance to put the River Hawks ahead as he took a pass alone in front, but his backhand went just wide right.
The third period was a more even affair. Bears’ sophomore Sean Muncy had an excellent tip-in try go just over the crossbar. At 15:52 of the third, the Bears had an excellent chance when Matt Vokes drew a tripping call as he cut hard towards the net from the left side boards. However, Baier was called for slashing almost immediately, negating the power play. The River Hawks outshot the Bears 11-8 in the period.
Fatigue, and possibly the altitude, visibly slowed both teams in the overtime. Bears senior Brian Ihnacak had the best chance, firing a shot from the right face-off circle that deflected off Monaco’s shoulder.
In the shootout, both goalies came up big. Rosen stuffed Kory Falite on a backhand on the second shot, and Monaco robbed Sean McMonagle’s backhand with a quick glove on the Bears’ third shot. Jeremy Hall got the first goal, beating Rosen with a perfect shooter-tutor type shot high glove side. Ihnacak answered for the Bears, coming down the left side and beating Monaco with a shot on the ice glove side. Schaus scored for the River Hawks when his shot hit Rosen’s glove and just rolled in. Muncy kept the Bears in it, coming down the right side, freezing Monaco with a fake low glove side, then sliding to his backhand and shooting into an open net.
With the score tied after the first five shooters, the shooters rotated through again, and Dehner kept the pressure on, coming down the middle, breaking to his right and beating Rosen through the five-hole. “I took the shot on the first one, so I was thinking he would be ready for another shot, knowing the ice was bad, so I just wanted to fake the shot and put it over, and somehow got it underneath his pad,” said Dehner.
Sophomore Eric Slais had a chance to even it, but Monaco got his pads on his shot.
MacDonald thinks this game can help the River Hawks in Hockey East. “We’re averaging, in Hockey East 1.8 goals a game, but we’re outshooting our opponents 30-24 in Hockey East. We have to score more, and hopefully we’ll break out one of these games.”