DENVER — In a hard fought game, the seventh ranked Denver Pioneers squeaked out an overtime victory over the No. 17 Niagara Purple Eagles at home, 2-1. Freshman Tyler Ruegsegger got the game winner with 6.1 seconds left, taking a beautiful behind-the-back pass from Brock Trotter and firing a wrist shot inside the left post.
“I was playing point on the power play there and I saw Trotter had it with 10 seconds left moving to the net and I knew there was going to be a play on goal there and I wanted to get down for a rebound and Trotter made an unbelievable pass there and gave me the whole net to put it in,” said Ruegsegger.
The Pioneers started tentatively, having trouble moving the puck. Niagara’s Matt Caruana had an excellent chance at the 1:07 mark, as the puck came to him at the right post, but Pioneer netminder Glenn Fisher managed to dive back along the ice and make the stop.
The Pioneers started to get their legs under them, helped by a series of Niagara penalties. Brian Gifford had an excellent chance, redirecting a pass in front that Niagara goalie Juliano Pagliero managed to stop. The Purple Eagles had a good chance on a power play on Chris Moran’s tip-in try from in front, but Fisher closed the five-hole.
The Pioneers got on the board at 15:53 of the period on a fluke bounce. Trotter slid a pass through the crease that went off a skate to Ryan Dingle, who got off a great shot that Pagliero stopped, but Rhett Rakhshani came out from behind the net and poked the puck into the crease, where it deflected off Dan Sullivan’s skate into the net.
The Pioneers ramped up the pressure in the second period, outshooting the Purple Eagles 17-6, but, as they have all year, struggled to score goals. Pioneer coach George Gwozdecky mixed up his lines at the start of the game in an attempt to generate more offense, moving Trotter to play with Ruegsegger and Gifford and Ryan Helgason to Dingle and Rakhshani’s line.
“I think being more offensive is having more energy and being able to physically impose your style on your opponent,” said Gwozdecky. “Helgason is an energy guy, and we needed him to be able to energize Dingle and Rakhshani. I thought he did a nice job, as did Tyler with Trotter and Gifford.”
“Based off our shots, I think we created a lot of offense tonight,” said Ruegsegger. “Each night, no matter who you are playing with, you have to go out and work hard and things will pay off.”
During a 4-on-4, the Pioneers had an excellent chance when Andrew Thomas made a pretty behind the back pass to Dingle streaking down the slot. Dingle got off a great shot that Pagliero just got the right pad on.
Meanwhile, the Pioneers tied up Niagara’s leading scorer Ted Cook, limiting him to only one shot. When the Purple Eagles did manage to get a shot, Fisher read the play well, as when he slid across the crease to suck the puck into his chest on a one-timer by Moran.
In the third period, the Pioneers continued to generate good scoring chances, but were unable to put the puck in the net. Ruegsegger, moving across the middle from the left side circle, rang a shot off the crossbar early on.
Cook tied the game at 10:26 on what started out as a harmless play. Cook backhanded a shot from near the crease that Fisher stopped, but he gave up a rebound, and Cook got behind the Pioneer defense, picked up the puck and roofed it in.
“We’re a young team and I think we had too many guys playing not to hurt us instead of going out there to help us, but when we got the score we started to play well and had some chances to win,” said Purple Eagles’ coach Dave Burkholder. “We get one and we start playing with confidence, but we were on our heels all night. Thank god for our goalie or we wouldn’t have got to overtime. He played great.”
The Pioneers, who had seemed in control of the game despite the narrow margin, started to play a little recklessly. Fisher coughed up the puck behind his net along the boards and the puck came out to Kyle Rogers, but Fisher just managed to get back into his net in time and knock the shot wide.
The Pioneers regrouped and generated great pressure in the waning moments of the period. Pagliero made several excellent stops, and Pioneer captain Adrian Veideman rang a slap shot off the left post. The Pioneers outshot Niagara 16-8 in the period.
“I thought their goaltender played really, really well, and they played a great road game,” said Gwozdecky. “They were smart defensively, they blocked a ton of shots, they were diving for pucks. For as hard as we played, we really didn’t see up to that point a lot of the positive results of our effort.”
The overtime was played mostly in Niagara’s zone. At 3:37, Pioneer sophomore Patrick Mullen looked to have the game won when he shot it into an open net, but the goal was waved off because head referee Bill Mason had blown the whistle after losing sight of the puck during a wild scramble in front of the net.
At the 3:45 mark, Helgason went hard to the net looking for a rebound as Pagliero smothered the puck, leading to a scrum that ended with Niagara’s Scott Langdon getting a penalty for cross-checking. Langdon also got a misconduct for yelling at Mason from the box. The penalty set the stage for Ruegsegger’s game winner.
“We were talking on the bench there that if we kept on shooting the puck something was going to go in,” said Ruegsegger. “We stayed positive the whole time and it paid off.”
“I thought we dealt with that negative emotion very well,” said Gwozdecky. “In those situations, it’s very easy to lose your composure and take a bad penalty or get yourself out of position, so I was proud of how we responded.”
Niagara gets its chance at redemption Saturday night; face-off is set for 7:05 in Denver.