DENVER — In a game with huge ramifications for both WCHA playoffs and national seeding, the fourth ranked St. Cloud State Huskies edged the No. 5 Denver Pioneers, 3-2, gaining a critical two points in the race for the WCHA regular season title.
The game started slowly, with both teams playing not to lose. The difference in the first ten minutes was the power play. The Huskies made the most of their chance when Andreas Nodl made a beautiful setup play, stepping out to his left from behind the net and feeding Andrew Gordon in the slot, who beat Pioneers’ goalie Glenn Fisher through the five hole at 4:39.
Moments later, the Pioneers got their only power play of the period, but were unable to get anything moving, only managing one shot.
“Their first goal was just a typical example of how out to lunch we were at times tonight,” said Pioneers’ coach George Gwozdecky.
The Pioneers finally started to get some pressure on Huskies’ goalie Bobby Goepfert around the halfway point of the period as Brock Trotter, Tyler Ruegsegger and Brian Gifford cycled the puck. Ruegsegger had an excellent shot down low on the left side, but Goepfert came up big, and moments later he stoned Gifford from the right side.
It looked like the power play would be the big difference in the period, but a costly turnover late gave the Huskies a two goal lead. Pioneers’ defenseman Andrew Thomas pass up the left side was picked off by Huskies’ freshman Ryan Peckskamp near the blue line. The puck bounced off Peckskamp’s stick and came right to Nodl, who fired a slap shot high glove side.
“Ryan Peckskamp won a battle and the puck just came to me and I saw a defenseman coming and I knew he was going to screen the goalie,” said Nodl. “I don’t know how it went in; I didn’t see it. I was pretty lucky actually.”
It was the first time since their first game of the year that the Pioneers gave up more than one goal in the first period.
“A comedy of errors,” said Gwozdecky of the first period. “They jammed us in the zone, hemmed us in, and we made bad decision after bad decision with the puck along the wall and turned it over.”
“We had a good first period,” said Huskies’ coach Bob Motzko. “They were a little quiet after their big weekend series and we took advantage and played well, got ourselves a nice lead, and then really self-destructed in the second period with all the penalties we took, something we don’t normally do, and we deserved them too.”
Just as they had in their last game against Minnesota, the Pioneers quickly found themselves trailing 3-0 when the Huskies again capitalized on a power play at 5:13. Ryan Lasch fed Gordon in front, and the rebound came out to Nodl moving down the right side, and he had a wide open net to shoot into.
“Denver’s penalty kill is really good, so we were just trying to make plays in practice all week long,” said Nodl. “Like the first goal that Gordon scored was a play that we did in practice a hundred times, and it seemed like we collected passes on our blade and got a lot of shots.”
“When you’re not mentally prepared to execute like you’ve worked on and are trained to do, you’re going to make mistakes, and that game was a series of mental errors after mental errors after mental errors,” said Gwozdecky.
Just when the Huskies appeared firmly in control, the Pioneers struck back with a power play goal. Ruegsegger, who is having a stellar January, snuck down from his position on the right side point and took a pass in the slot from Trotter camped along the left side goal line and fired a shot that beat Goepfert.
The Huskies appealed the goal, feeling that Rhett Rakhshani interfered; on the replay, it looked like there might have been some contact as Rakhshani cut into the crease along the left side post, but the goal stood.”
“They put us down three goals in the hole, it’s tough to come out of,” said Ruegsegger. “I think at certain times we were panicking with the puck. We just need to settle down and make tape-to-tape passes.”
Less than two minutes later, the Pioneers cut the lead to one when Geoff Paukovich fed a pass to Ryan Helgason near the right side blue line; Helgason quickly fired a wrist shot along the ice that snuck inside the right side post.
“We fought through the rest of that period,” said Motzko. “The special teams play just doesn’t help us. We’re battling through playing here in Denver at altitude, you have to use a lot of guys killing, and god, we have guys on the bench with red faces.”
Late in the period, the Huskies almost upped their lead back to two when Garrett Raboin fired a shot from the right side point that hit Fisher’s arm and rolled to the post, but Fisher managed to freeze it. The Pioneers almost tied it shortly thereafter when Reugsegger streaked down the right side boards past a fallen Huskies defenseman and fed Trotter, who fired a wrist shot that Goepfert just managed to snag with his glove.
The third period was a penalty-filled affair. The Huskies best chance came when a turnover by Pioneers’ captain Adrian Veideman let the puck squirt out front to Nate Dey alone, but Fisher managed to snag Dey’s shot with his glove.
“It was just a dogfight for two periods,” said Nodl. “We’re just glad we came out with the win because we know Denver’s a great team.”
The Pioneers looked to tie it up several times, but their power play, so strong in the past month, couldn’t get untracked.
“As bad as it’s been all year long,” said Gwozdecky of the power play. “There were times even in the third period when we had two great power play opportunities and we couldn’t get possession of the puck in the offensive zone.”
The teams faceoff again at 7:00 p.m. Mountain time Saturday. “I think it’s going to be a more crisp game,” said Motzko. “We should hopefully have more energy tomorrow.”