DENVER — Sometimes, it really is better to be lucky than good.
The No. 4 Denver Pioneers proved this axiom true in gutting out an ugly 2-1 win over the Minnesota State Mavericks at Magness Arena Friday night. The Pioneers got two opportune goals in the first period and Peter Mannino made the big saves when he had to, including several big ones in the last 30 seconds of the game with Mavericks players right on the doorstep.
The Pioneers looked rusty from their weekend off in the first period, especially in the defensive zone, and had trouble generating any sustained pressure in the offensive zone. The Mavericks forecheck created several turnovers, including one that allowed Trevor Bruess to step out from the left corner and spin a backhand shot right on Mannino.
I dont know if its just because we didnt play last week, but Mankato really pressured us very well, said Pioneers forward Brandon Vossberg, who got the game-winner. They obviously watched a lot of tape on us.
The Pioneers weathered the early battle however, and looked to take the lead when they got a power play at 14:13. However, it was the Mavericks who capitalized shorthanded at 15:29 when a neutral zone turnover by Chris Butler allowed Jon Kalinski and Bruess to break in two-on-none. Mannino made the stop on Kalinskis initial shot, but Butler wasnt able to catch Bruess as he grabbed the rebound and knocked it in.
The lead didnt last long however. The Mavericks killed the power play but were unable to clear the zone. Moments after Kyle Ostrow hit the right post with a shot from the bottom of the circle, the puck came out to Brian Gifford at the left point. Gifford fired a low shot that Ostrow deflected in at 16:32.
Thats the character of our team, said Mannino. We battled back and got the momentum back.
The Pioneers quickly built on that momentum on a harmless looking play.
Vossberg put the Pioneers ahead at 16:54 when he got the puck in the right corner, behind the goal line, and fired a shot towards the net that hit goalie Matt Zacharias in the back and dropped in. As Vossberg skated towards Mannino to knock gloves in celebration, he smiled sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders.
Weve always talked about getting pucks to the net, said Vossberg. I actually saw (Matt) Glasser going to the net so I thought Id throw the puck on net and it happened to go in. I didnt think it went in at first; I thought it went behind the net. Its what weve been preaching, especially when were not getting a lot of offense.
While the execution didnt improve much in the second period, it did lead to some heart-stopping moments. However, neither team could capitalize. The Mavericks had the better chances early, as turnovers continued to plague the Pioneers.
A bad bounce off the boards on a clear gave the puck to Bruess in the left circle, but Mannino got the left pad down. James Gaulrapp had Mannino out of position and an open net to shoot at, but he got tied up with Chris Butler in the crease and wasnt able to get a shot off.
Geoff Irwin had Mannino down on his back with his head pointed towards the post, but as Irwin stepped right he wasnt able to lift the puck and it slid into the pile at the right post.
The Pioneers had several good chances as well. Brock Trotter fed a perfect cross-ice pass to Vossberg, who had the goalie beat, but his shot went high. Tyler Bozak broke in alone on Zacharias, but as he made a move to his right the puck rolled off his stick. Gifford also had a good chance from the crease on a pass from Bozak, but his tip in try went high.
We didnt have it offensively tonight, and Mannino gave us a chance to win the game, said Vossberg.
The third period was much like the second. Ostrow had an excellent chance late to extend the late, shooting at an open net, but his shot hit a Mavericks skate and ricocheted out. In the last minute, the Mavericks pulled Zacharias for the extra skater and had several good chances, but Mannino smothered every puck that came his way.
We just tried to get back to our game and we take one period at a time as a team, said Mannino. We just tried not to get frustrated and keep the intensity up and get better every period.