HOUGHTON, Mich. — The fifth ranked Denver Pioneers were not so easily shaken by that old Winter Carnival magic at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena. They notched two first period goals against the Michigan Tech Huskies, before falling behind in the third period. It then took a wing and a prayer and a blast from sophomore defenseman Chris Butler to earn a 4-4 tie.
“It was a roller coaster of emotions tonight,” said Huskies head coach Jamie Russell. “Earning three points at this point in the season is a pretty significant mark for this program.”
Butler got the puck at the red line, skated to the Huskies’ blueline and unloaded a long slap shot that eluded sophomore goaltender Rob Nolan to even the game at the 16:12 of the third period.
“We got a goofy bounce on that goal,” said Pioneers head coach George Gwozdecky. “I thought both teams fought very hard tonight.”
The Pioneers struck quickly as senior winger Ryan Helgason banked the puck into the net off the stick of Huskies sophomore goaltender Rob Nolan 4:31 in. Junior center Geoff Paukovich picked up an assist on the goal, along with junior winger Tom May.
“We were unhappy with how we played last night,” said Gwozdecky. “As a result we got off to a much better start night.”
On the power play, freshman forward Rhett Rakhshani gave the Pioneers a two-goal lead off the face-off in the Huskies’ zone. Junior center Ryan Dingle won the draw back to Butler. Butler fed Rakhshani, who skated into the high slot and fired a wrist shot over Nolan’s shoulder. The goal, Rakhshani’s ninth, came at the 5:35 mark of the opening frame.
With freshman defenseman Cody Brookwell off the ice for holding, the Huskies were finally able to get themselves into the offense. Sophomore defenseman Geoff Kinrade had a great opportunity to junior goaltender Peter Mannino’s left, but was stopped. Shortly after, the Huskies struck.
Junior center Peter Rouleau carried the puck behind Mannino, made a great pass out from the corner to co-captain Lars Helminen at the blueline. Helminen’s blast from the point rebounded straight to junior winger Jimmy Kerr, who buried his third power play tally of the season at the 7:55 mark.
The Huskies evened the game when Mannino made an initial save. Freshman forward Phil Axtell scooped up the loose puck and fed it out to Helminen at the point. Helminen’s blast rebounded out to Kinrade, who fired a low wrist shot past Mannino and into the net. The goal, Kinrade’s fifth of the campaign, came at the 16:16 mark of the period.
In the second period, the Huskies had a solid chance to take the lead short handed when junior forward Jordan Foote caused freshman defenseman Keith Seabrook to turn the puck over. Foote drove around Seabrook and walked in on Mannino, but Mannino made the stop.
On the same man advantage, the Pioneers managed to regain the one-goal lead when freshman forward Brock Trotter wrested a shot up over Nolan’s right shoulder at 8:28. Huskies defenseman Mark Malekoff misplayed the puck at the blueline, and the Pioneers took over. Butler moved the puck to Rakhshani, who fed Trotter. The goal was Trotter’s fifteenth of the season.
The Huskies answered right back just twenty seconds later as junior forward Tyler Shelast netted his thirteenth of the season with a rebound he buried. The puck had moved out to Helminen at the blueline, Helminen skated it in, and fired a wrist shot that bounced to a waiting Shelast, ending Mannino’s night.
The Pioneers controlled much of the latter half of the period, mainly due to a man advantage over the last two minutes due to a penalty to freshman forward Phil Axtell. Rakhshani parked himself just off the net to Nolan’s right, and had three golden opportunities to give the Pioneers the lead, but he missed the net twice, and Nolan stopped him the other time.
The Pioneers jumped quickly in the third period with sophomore forward Patrick Mullen getting two Grade A opportunities in front of Nolan, but Nolan was there to make the stops.
With a very solid shift, the Huskies had two great chances of their own to get the lead as assistant captain Tyler Skworchinski cut into the slot and released a low wrist shot that senior goaltender Glenn Fisher, who had replaced Mannino, had to handle at the 7:21 mark. Fisher had to make another couple of stops on Kerr, as the puck rebounded to him shortly after.
Sophomore forward Malcolm Gwilliam gave the Huskies their first lead of the game at 10:43 when he redirected a shot past Fisher. Shelast took the initial shot from the bad angle, and Gwilliam was alone in front to tip it. The goal was Gwilliam’s eighth of the season.
The Huskies appeared to be in the driver’s seat for the huge sweep before Butler’s tally to even the game, forcing a wild last four minutes of play where Pioneer forward Brandon Vossberg had two golden opportunities, but was stopped on the first one, and his second attempt went over the Husky goal.
The Pioneers outshot the Huskies 13-12 in the final twenty minutes of regulation.
The extra session was controlled by the Pioneers. Junior center Ryan Dingle, who had been quiet all weekend, got off a long blast with 2:18, but Nolan made the stop.
The best opportunity for either team came with :23 left as freshman center Tyler Ruegsegger got behind the Huskies’ defense, but Helminen caught up to him, and hooked him down, preventing Ruegsegger from getting a very good shot on goal.
Helminen was rewarded for his efforts all weekend with the Winter Carnival MVP award. He finished the weekend with four assists.
“I was just getting pucks to the net, and the guys were putting them in,” said Helminen. “It’s nice to have something the fans can remember me by.”
The Huskies finished one-for-four on the power play while surrendering two in five chances for the Pioneers.
Nolan finished with 26 saves for the game, and Fisher finished with 14 in relief of Mannino, who had made 20.
With the three points on the weekend, the Huskies earned the MacInnes Cup for first time since 2005, when the Huskies earned three points against the Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks.