DENVER — In their final non-conference game of the year, the seventh-ranked Denver Pioneers exploded offensively, turning a tight game into a blowout of the No. 17 Niagara Purple Eagles 5-2.
Tyler Ruegsegger and Brock Trotter paced the offensive surge by the normally low-scoring Pioneers, who play a crucial series with the top-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers in Minnesota next weekend.
“Next weekend is going to be a very big weekend for us,” said Ruegsegger. “Our conference is very tight, so we’re going to have to go in and work hard and pull off a win or two.”
The Pioneers came out strong, looking to impose themselves on the Purple Eagles and prevent the contest from becoming a tight affair like Friday night’s game.
On an early power play, Friday hero Ruegsegger moved in from the right point and ripped a shot that Purple Eagles goalie Allen Barton managed to block. Rhett Rakhshani had an open net on the rebound, but was unable to corral the puck. Trotter, the Pioneers’ leading scorer, had several good looks, including one deflection that just missed wide right.
However, as the period progressed and the Pioneers were unable to get on the board, the Purple Eagles gained confidence and started to work their forecheck effectively, getting several good looks and generating sustained pressure. Sean Bentivoglio got off a good shot that Pioneers netminder Glenn Fisher snagged.
“We had a couple of chances early in the game to score, we didn’t, and all of a sudden it seemed we just got stuck in third gear and played pretty mediocre the rest of that first period,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “That intermission, a couple things were said to adjust our frame of mind.”
Fisher was playing back-to-back games for only the third time this year, as Peter Mannino rested his injured groin.
“What a luxury, when you have your number-one goaltender go down to injury and you can put your number-one goaltender in,” said Gwozdecky. “To be able to have Peter rest himself and hopefully get himself ready for next weekend and be able to come back with two very strong performances from Glenn, we’re very fortunate to be able to have two quality guys like that.”
The second period started with the Purple Eagles on the power play. However, they were unable to generate any chances, and the Pioneers began to forecheck relentlessly, cycling the puck and looking like they were on a power play at even strength.
Brandon Vossberg got the Pioneers on the board at 7:31 of the period. Geoff Paukovich took a pass from Patrick Mullen at the red line and skated along the left boards. As he reached the top of the circle, Paukovich fired a slapshot that Barton got the pads on, but he gave up a big rebound that Vossberg, streaking down the right side, picked up and fired high into the open net.
“That first goal was not a great one,” said Purple Eagles’ coach Dave Burkholder. “I’m sure Al wants that one back, and that jumpstarted them and the crowd.”
The Pioneers looked energized by the goal, and started to pepper Barton with shots. Near the halfway point of the period, captain Adrian Veideman picked up the puck along the left boards in his zone, skated behind the net and accelerated out of the zone. As he crossed into the Purple Eagles’ zone, Veideman slowed and fed Trotter streaking down the slot, who stuffed the puck inside the right post from the goal line.
At 11:41, the Purple Eagles got an opportunistic goal when Chris Moran carried the puck down the left side, started to split the D and passed over to Kyle Rogers coming down the right side. Rogers poked the puck past Fisher as he crashed into him and knocked the net off the posts, and the goal stood on review.
The Purple Eagles responded to their goal by stepping up the pressure. Bentivoglio had a great chance on a deflection, but Fisher made the save. However, when Pat Oliveto was whistled for interference at 17:21 of the period, the Pioneers struck, giving themselves a cushion.
Trotter, who was a threat every time he got on the ice, got the puck along the goal line on the left side and fed Ruegsegger coming down from the right point, who fired a perfect wrist shot high stick-side past Barton at 19:02.
“Obviously when it’s a 2-1 game the next goal is huge, so we knew we had to get it and we had our chance on the power play and we were fortunate enough to score, said Ruegsegger.”
“We started taking some chances; we let our defense be a little more aggressive and pinch, and that cost us on transitions,” said Burkholder.
Shortly into the third period, Ryan Dingle stepped over the blue line and fired a wrist shot that hit Barton’s pad and trickled in at the 43-second mark.
The Purple Eagles got a final tally at 13:11 when Scott Langdon intercepted a clear at the point and fired a slapshot that hit the left side of Fisher’s body and rolled in.
Perhaps the biggest change Gwozdecky made this weekend was moving Ruegsegger to the point on the power play, a move that resulted in Ruegsegger’s third goal of the weekend at 5:28 when Dingle, along the left boards, fed Ruegsegger moving in from the point. Ruegsegger fired a laser of a wrist shot high glove side.
“Coach put me out there this past week on the power play on the point, so I think it’s really paid off so far,” said Ruegsegger. “Our power play’s been moving the puck great and we’re just shooting the puck and things are going in the net for us.”
“I don’t know whether the success of our power play is related to putting Tyler in there, but there’s no question that he’s a smart player, he’s got good hands,” said Gwozdecky. “He seemed to complement the other four guys very well and him and Chris Butler did a real good job on the point. I’ve got a feeling that he’s probably going to be there for a while.”