DENVER — The No. 6 Denver Pioneers continued their blazing start, getting balanced production from their top two lines in a 5-1 victory over the No. 17 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs before a capacity crowd of 6,048 at Magness Arena.
Both teams struggled in a tightly played first period, neither wanting to make a mistake that could open things up. The Bulldogs got the only power play of the period, but were unable to generate any good chances.
The Pioneers, meanwhile, seemed a step off in their passing, many just failing to spring a man forward. Midway through the period, the Pioneers got the best scoring chance by either team when freshman Tyler Bozak, streaking down the left side boards, fed sophomore Brock Trotter as he split the defensemen coming down the slot. Bulldogs’ goaltender Alex Stalock made the stop however, directing the rebound into the corner.
“I think both teams played a little bit of shadow boxing,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “There weren’t a lot of offensive chances, and I think both teams were kind of feeling each other out.”
Early in the second period, the Pioneers connected on a beautiful power play setup to take a 1-0 lead. Kyle Ostrow, stationed on the right side circle, fed Trotter down at the left side goal line. Trotter stopped the puck with his left skate and rifled a snap shot into the open net at the 1:59 mark of the period.
The lead didn’t last long however. Bulldogs’ forward Justin Fontaine knocked the puck up ice, and near the Pioneers’ blue line freshman defenseman John Ryder poked at the puck and missed, then tried to take the body on Nick Kemp, but Kemp got around Ryder and fed Jordan Fulton coming through the slot. Fulton fired a wrist shot top shelf glove side, tying the game just 42 seconds after the first goal.
Buoyed by the goal, the Bulldogs started to get sustained pressure on Mannino, who was forced to make several big stops.
The period, and game, turned on one play. Bulldogs’ captain Matt McKnight came across the blue line and took a perfect pass from MacGregor Sharp. McKnight speed in alone on Mannino and fired a shot, but Mannino made the stop.
Pioneers’ forward Rhett Rakshani picked up the puck along the left side boards and backhanded it out of the zone and over the outstretched glove of Evan Oberg. Ruegsegger and Oberg battled for the puck up the boards and Oberg, falling down, tripped up Ruegsegger at the Bulldogs’ blue line. Ruegsegger quickly got to his feet, retaining possession of the puck, and backhanded a pass cross ice to Anthony Maiani at the right side hashmarks, and Maiani fired the puck into the open net at the 6:40 mark of the period.
“I saw Rhett get the puck and I knew hed go off the glass, so I just tried to get around that ‘D’ and I was able to get up and around him, and Rhett and Maiani both drove the net hard,” said Ruegsegger.
“Thats kind of what goaltenders do,” said Mannino. “They’ve got to make the big save and try to get the team going. Especially when the score’s tight like that, you dont want them going ahead, so we wanted to keep the momentum on our side.”
The Pioneers extended their lead to 3-1 at the 11:39 mark when captain Andrew Thomas fired a wrist shot from the right point that hit Oberg and came to Ostrow, who spun and fired a shot on goal. Stalock made the initial stop, but the rebound came out and hit the skate of Travis Gawryletz and trickled into the open net.
“They were the better team,” said Bulldogs’ coach Scott Sandelin. “I don’t want to take anything away from them, but we had some guys who didn’t show up who need to show up and I thought they won a lot of the battles. Hopefully we can learn from it.”
To their credit, the Bulldogs didn’t give up in the final period, but every time they got a good chance, Mannino came up with the big stop, including a huge save on Josh Meyers’ one-timer from the top of the circle.
“They came out hard, especially in the third period,” said Mannino. “They came out shooting and tried to get back in the game, and I tried to make it as easy on our team as possible.”
“As expected, Peter has been the guy who has been consistent whenever we mess up and has been very good at making us look better than we are,” said Gwozdecky.
The Pioneers added a couple of late goals. Ruegsegger scored a pretty goal at the 17:58, breaking down the right side, freezing Stalock and taking an extra step forward to slide the puck into the corner, and then Brandon Vossberg added another at 18:47 when he one-timed Dustin Jackson’s pass past a diving Stalock.
“Tonights score was extremely misleading,” said Gwozdecky. “It was not a 5-1 game. I thought we were very loose in our coverages all over the ice, especially in our own zone. There are certain areas of our game that definitely have to improve tomorrow night.”
“Youve got to try to get points every weekend,” said Sandelin, echoing Gwozdeckys assessment. “I don’t think tonight’s game was a 5-1 game, but you’ve just got to learn from it and move on. Weve got to be a better team from start to finish.”
The Pioneers will try to accomplish something Saturday night they were unable to all season last year, sweep a WCHA series at home, and they expect a challenge.
“From my standpoint, in our league every team’s good,” said Ruegsegger. “To come out with the start weve had so far is good for our team. They played a good game tonight and Peter made some big saves. They’re going to come hard and it should be a good game tomorrow.”