DENVER — Riding a superlative effort from sophomore netminder Alex Stalock, the No. 17 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs pulled out a split against the No. 6 Denver Pioneers, taking a 3-0 win in a game that, like Friday night, was not truly indicative of the score. Stalock made 42 saves in the win and was named first star of the game.
“It reminded me of a game four years ago when we beat Denver 1-0 and Isaac Reichmuth was in the net,” said Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin. “He played great; certainly that was the difference, and we buried some opportune goals.”
Once again, both teams started slowly and made the occasional bad play. Bulldogs’ forward MacGregor Sharp got a great chance early on a power play, driving the net and firing a rebound at Pioneers’ goalie Peter Mannino, but Mannino closed the pads and made the save.
The Bulldogs had several other chances. Captain Matt McKnight and Chase Ryan broke in on a two-on-one chance, but defenseman Patrick Mullen got his stick down and intercepted McKnight’s pass.
Offensively, the Pioneers had trouble getting pucks on net, despite moving the puck well in the Bulldogs’ zone. They failed to register a shot on goal in the first 10 minutes, though defenseman J.P. Testwuide had a great chance when he jumped into the slot from the point to get a Dustin Jackson pass, but his shot went wide.
Brock Trotter had the best chance of the period, sliding the puck to his backhand as he moved through the crease. Trotter had an open net, but couldn’t pull the trigger on the shot.
“I thought early in the game we werent as sharp offensively as we needed to be,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “I thought we had a couple of miscues and the passes just weren’t there. We weren’t as sharp as we needed to be moving the puck up ice and transitioning, which needs to be a strong suit for us.”
The Pioneers started the second period on a power play, but were unable to generate anything. At even strength, Tyler Bozak had Trotter at the back door with a wide open net, but the pass was knocked away by Stalock.
“They were moving the puck around, and I thought our team at times got caught standing around,” said Sandelin “To win games, you have to get good goaltending. A wins a win, and it ends up being a good weekend for us.”
The Bulldogs struck first at the 7:32 mark of the period when Sharp, stationed in the slot, redirected Ryan’s shot from the point on net. Mannino appeared to make the stop, but the puck had just enough to trickle through the five-hole and into the net.
“Our goal at the start of year was to come out and score first in every game and sustain that lead,” said Stalock. “We had a good period both nights coming out of it 0-0, and I think the first night we kind of shut down and they scored early in the second and just piled it on, but tonight we kept going and kept going and ended up getting an opportune two goals.”
The Bulldogs quickly built on their lead when Cody Danberg, skating left-to-right behind the Pioneers net, slid a pass past the left post to Rob Bordson camped on the left side crease. Bordson fired the puck low past Mannino at the 9:47 mark.
“I thought they played a smart game,” said Gwozdecky. “We made a couple of bad miscues in our own zone.”
Late in the period, Stalock made the save of the game, robbing Rhett Rakhshani. Rakhshani, alone in the slot, fired the puck low off the ice. Stalock, stretched out on his the ice, managed to snag the puck, to Rakhshani’s disbelief.
“On a play like that, a guy gets it in the slot, it’s almost like you have to make him make a move,” said Stalock. “I came out on him and got the pads on it. He came out after the whistle and even said he hadn’t seen a save like that. It’s kind of fun to make saves like that.”
Stalock stayed hot through the entire third period, stopping 18 shots. As the frustration mounted, the Pioneers continued to fire shots, often just missing. Rakhshani made a spinning shot that just went wide of an open net early in the period, and Kyle Ostrow made a superlative effort to get behind the Bulldogs’ defense on a breakaway, but his backhand went just wide of the left post.
“I don’t think Ive ever faced that many shots at Duluth,” said Stalock. “We’ve got a bye week next week and have a couple guys hurt back at home and it’s a huge two points going into the bye week.”
“The pucks that he did not see, I thought he was square to them,” said Gwozdecky. “Pucks were tipped, and because he was square they hit him and bounced away.”
The Bulldogs added a final tally midway through the third when Matt Greer came streaking down the left side, got a step on the Pioneers’ defenseman and fired a low wrist shot from the left circle that beat Mannino stick side.
“Again, the difference was Al,” said Sandelin. “It was important to get a win. You go on road trips and you feel pretty good about a split. It’s important to get points each weekend in this league.”
Gwozdecky felt his team learned an important lesson from tonights game.
“I think the thing you take away from it is teams are going to play a certain way against us and we have to be smart about knowing how they are going to play and realizing that teams are going to wait and try to press us for a miscue. We have to realize that we want to force the other team to blink first and in a game like tonight we blinked first.”