DENVER — In a hard fought, see-saw game, the seventh ranked Denver Pioneers edged the No. 8 North Dakota Fighting Sioux, 4-3 in overtime. Senior J.D. Corbin-playing his first game since breaking his leg during practice on October-got the game winner at 2:18 of the extra session when the puck deflected off his glove off a shot from senior Adrian Veideman at the point.
“There’s no question we’ve missed his speed,” said Pioneers’ coach George Gwozdecky. “You could see there were times when he was a little bit, I mean, you talk about rusty. I thought he played pretty well. He’s one of these guys that you know you’re going to get a strong effort from every time.”
The first period started with a lot of physical play. The Pioneers generated a lot of shots on Sioux netminder Philippe Lamoureux, but many of the shots came from the outside, and they were unable to capitalize on two early power plays, cycling the puck well but having difficulty getting the puck down low for quality chances.
As the period wore on, the Sioux started to get the better quality chances. Midway through the period, Andrew Kozek got off a shot from the right side boards that hit goalie Glenn Fisher’s right shoulder and trickled towards the goal line, but Tom May got to the puck just ahead of a streaking Rylan Kaip and cleared it.
Late in the period, the Sioux’s hard work paid off, as their top line combined for a beautiful goal. Jonathan Toews was double-teamed near the top of the right circle, and as he was going down backhanded a pass to Ryan Duncan near the face off dot. Duncan slid a perfect pass across the slot to T.J. Oshie, who had a wide open net to shoot at, getting the goal at 17:49.
“That’s like trying to play against a National Hockey League line,” said Gwozdecky. “Those guys are extremely talented and they play so well off each other that just trying to contain them is tough. They’re really good with the puck and without it. They backcheck hard and know how to position themselves.”
It looked as if the Sioux would take the lead into the locker room, but Ryan Dingle tied it at 19:18 with a singular effort on what looked like a harmless play. Ryan Helgason carried the puck up the left side boards and slowed just over the blue line, feeding Dingle as he stepped across the blue line. Dingle was hooked by Duncan as he skated towards the right circle, but got his stick down and fired a beautiful backhand shot top shelf as he neared the goal line.
The Pioneers came out stronger in the first half of the second period, using their speed to generate chances. When Chris Butler cleared the puck behind the Sioux defense, Dingle picked it up and raced down the ice on a 3-on-1. As Dingle hit the right circle, he fired a wrist shot that hit Lamoureux’s right pad and ricocheted out to Tyler Ruegsegger streaking down the left side, who fired the rebound into the open net at 6:57.
“It was a big goal for us,” said Ruegsegger. “I think Butler made a really nice job of staying up on our blue line to create a turnover and Ryan made a really nice shot and I just happened to be there for the rebound.”
The Pioneers, buoyed by the goal, aggressively forechecked, but Lamoureux had an answer every time the Pioneers got a shot off. At the midway point of the period, it seemed the Sioux got a lift from Lamoureux’s play and started to get better pressure.
When Corbin took an ill-advised hooking penalty, the Sioux quickly tied it on a great play by Oshie. Oshie streaked down the left side and, as he sidestepped a Pioneer defenseman, fell down on his back with his numbers facing the goal. However, he was still able to reach back and get his stick on the puck and slide it through the crease to Duncan standing alone on the right side post, who slid it into the open net at 12:52.
The top line put the Sioux back in front at 16:14. Duncan made a beautiful pass as he crossed the goal line, sliding it through the crease behind Fisher’s back to Toews standing on the right side post, who stuffed it into the open net.
At the start of the third period, Gwozdecky shortened his bench to three lines and shook things up by benching his leading scorer, Brock Trotter, who had been having an ineffective game. Gwozdecky moved Rhett Rakhshani up to take Trotter’s place and Mike Handza onto a line with Brian Gifford and Corbin.
“You could really see that certain guys were more rusty than others; I guess that’s the best way to put it,” said Gwozdecky. “Some nights it’s your night and some night’s it’s not, and you accept it and you battle your way through it and if other guys are called upon they do. We shortened the bench and Brock just happened to be one of them, but I expect him to be back in full mode tomorrow.”
The Pioneers struck back early in the third to tie it. May carried the puck over the blue line, fought off a check from Zach Jones and skated through the circle, then slid a pass through the crease to Geoff Paukovich standing alone at the left post, who promptly chipped the puck into the open net at 2:18. It was Paukovich’s eighth goal since Christmas, after being scoreless for most of the first half of the season.
“I’m getting to the net more and am more cognizant of where the puck is,” said Paukovich. “It’s just confidence. We played so hard tonight that once we got the tying goal we weren’t going to lose the game, and it’s a great confidence boost for us and we’ve got to carry it into tomorrow.”
The Pioneers came out flying after the goal. Dingle broke down the left side on a 3-on-1, but held onto the puck too long and his shot was easily blocked by Lamoureux. Moments later, Helgason got a breakaway on a great feed from Paukovich, but he lost the puck as he went to make a move on Lamoureux.
Late in the period Oshie almost put the Sioux back in front when he fired a shot through Andrew Thomas’ legs that hit the left post and careened into the right side boards.
In the last minute of the period, the Pioneers had several good chances, but Lamoureux came up big, especially off a shot from Rakhshani in the left circle.
“I think we ended the third period well and we were able to carry that momentum into overtime,” said Ruegsegger. “We started off with a great shift, Handza made a great tip and having Corbin back paid off.”
“It’s playoff time now,” said Corbin. “Tomorrow’s a new day, a completely new game. This game’s over. They’re obviously going to come out hard tomorrow and we’ve got to match that.”