DENVER — In a must-win situation, the fifth ranked Denver Pioneers responded from their lackluster Friday effort to defeat No. 4 St. Cloud State Huskies, 2-0. In earning his third shutout of the season, Pioneers’ netminder Peter Mannino extended his mastery of the Huskies, improving to 4-0 against them in his career.
In the interviews after last night’s game, both the players and coach George Gwozdecky stressed how lacking their mental preparation was at the start of the game. The Pioneers came out tonight intent on imposing themselves on the Huskies early. They aggressively forechecked and clogged the neutral zone, preventing the Huskies from using their speed to transition on the attack.
“We needed this game badly,” said Gwozdecky. “There was a real sense of urgency to our game.”
When the Huskies did manage to penetrate the offensive zone, the Pioneers blocked shots and passes. The tactic was very successful, as the Pioneers held the Huskies without a shot for the first seven minutes of the game.
“We knew it was a very big game for us, and we tried to prepare ourselves and we came out in the first period and took it to them,” said Pioneers’ freshman Tyler Ruegsegger. “We settled down, played our game and made tape-to-tape passes and when you do that it makes it easy on yourself.”
The Pioneers meanwhile, looked to shoot as often as possible, and tested Huskies’ goalie Bobby Goepfert frequently, drawing the first power play of the game at 9:14. The number one unit of Brock Trotter, Ryan Dingle, Rhett Rakhshani, Chris Butler and Tyler Ruegsegger buzzed the net, generating several excellent chances, and Ruegsegger’s speed drew a second penalty for hooking on Andreas Nodl with 20 seconds left in the first penalty.
Just as the 5-on-3 was ending at 11:14, Keith Seabrook’s slap shot hit Geoff Paukovich’s foot in front of the net, and Paukovich picked up the puck and made a beautiful spinning backhand shot that beat Goepfert through the five hole, giving the Pioneers the important first goal.
“There certainly was a difference in our start to the game, our approach to how we wanted to play,” said Gwozdecky. “Last night was very embarrassing for our team. It had nothing to do with the loss; it had more to do with our effort and our performance. All those things we struggled with last night, we did pretty well tonight.”
The Pioneers outshot the Huskies 18-4 in the period.
The Pioneers quickly opened a two goal lead early in the second period on a play that started with a sensational effort from Ruegsegger, who has possibly been the Pioneers most consistent performer over the last month.
Ruegsegger picked up the puck near the left circle, started forward, and then spun back towards the boards to create room before backhanding the puck to Butler at the point. Butler unloaded a slap shot that hit the right post, and the rebound came out to Trotter at the bottom of the left circle, whose shot squirted under Goepfert’s body and just trickled over the goal line.
“I just raced for the puck and I was able to get it to “Buts” and he made a great shot and Trotter was in the right position at the right time and put it in for us,” said Ruegsegger.
The Pioneers continued their strong forechecking, often keeping the puck bottled up in the Huskies’ zone. On two separate penalty kills, the Pioneers were diving to clear pucks and block shots, and even generated chances of their own.
“We just couldn’t get through the neutral zone,” said Huskies’ coach Bob Motzko.
“I think in the second period we turned it over 30 times. They played that trap. Third period we finally decided to get it deep and go to work. We only got the puck below the goal line twice in that second period.”
The Huskies came out aggressively in the third period, playing a more physical game along the boards and working the puck down low to generate scoring chances. The Pioneers had trouble adjusting and made several turnovers that led to shots.
“Anytime a team’s down going into the third period you know they’re going to come hard, and we knew that and I think we did a good job playing defensive zone hockey, making the simple plays,” said Ruegsegger.
Mannino made several key stops. His best save came midway through the period when Andrew Gordon skated down the left side boards and slid a perfect pass to Nodl streaking to the slot. Nodl fired a beautiful wrist shot that Mannino just managed to slide over and glove.
“I like the resolve we showed in that third period, because we were really frustrated in the second period with our play and what we were doing and what Denver was doing to us,” said Motzko.
The Pioneers started to get some chances late in the period. Trotter and Ruegsegger almost made it 3-0 when Trotter slid a pass from the left corner to Ruegsegger as he came down the slot. Ruegsegger shot five hole, and Goepfert just got enough on it that the puck slid through his pads and rolled into the right post, where it was cleared.
“Our strategy was not to press,” said Gwozdecky. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t going to get caught up ice in the offensive zone, although it happened once or twice. We changed our strategy in the third period, knowing we were going to give up a little bit more to them. When we made mistakes, we were able to have someone else in support.”
Nodl continued his impressive performance this weekend, almost cutting the lead to one with under a minute to play when he streaked around behind the net and shot for a bit of open net, but Mannino managed to get his left pad down.
Next weekend, the Pioneers host Minnesota-Duluth, while the Huskies are off.
“It’s a big challenge,” said Gwozdecky. “We’ll be working hard to make sure we’re ready to play at the level we are capable of playing. After last night, we’re on alert.”