DENVER — In a battle between two of the top offensive teams of the country, goaltending proved the difference, and the No. 3 Denver Pioneers edged the No. 8 North Dakota Fighting Sioux 1-0 as Pioneers’ senior Peter Mannino outdueled his counterpart Jean-Philippe Lamoureux. Both teams put the clamps on defensively; the Pioneers finished with 15 blocked shots and the Sioux blocked 16.
“I think that it’s rare that you’re going to have two potent offenses create only one goal,” said Pioneers’ coach George Gwozdecky. “I think both teams played well defensively, but I thought the difference in the game was goaltending, at both ends.”
The Sioux came out with an aggressive forecheck and pinned the Pioneers in their own end for the first few minutes of the game. Derrick LaPoint tested Mannino early, tipping a shot from the crease just high.
“You just have to kind of weather the storm there,” said Mannino. “They’re just going to try and get us off our game and get an early goal and get the momentum, and I think we did a good job of keeping it out, clearing rebounds, doing the little things like blocking shots.”
A series of Sioux penalties let the Pioneers settle down and start to test Sioux goaltender Jean-Philippe Lamoureux. Kyle Ostrow had an excellent tip-in try down low off a Chris Nutini shot, but hit the post.
“I think they took it to us in the first five minutes of the game and we had trouble getting out of our zone early,” said Pioneers’ defenseman Chris Butler. “I think once we settled down and started putting the puck deep things started to go our way.
The Pioneers were able to generate a few good chances on the power play. Brian Gifford rifled a wrist shot low from the left point, but Lamoureux closed the five-hole, and just as a power play was ending, Tom May had a golden chance with Lamoureux down on his chest, but May was unable to lift the backhand over Lamoureux’s left pad.
“We had a good start, then had three power plays against us in nine minutes, and that definitely changed the momentum of the first period a little bit,” said Sioux coach Dave Hakstol.
The period ended with a lot of run-and-gun hockey, but neither team was able to convert. Taylor Chorney picked up a drop pass as he came across the blue line with speed, but Mannino made the stop, and then Mannino made a huge stop on Chris VandeVelde as he cut through the slot on a two-on-one. Late in the period, Robbie Bina rang a wrist shot off the left post.
The Sioux continued to test Mannino early in the second period. VandeVelde found Bina coming through the slot, but Mannino kept his left pad down, then Mannino made a big stop on Sioux sniper Ryan Duncan from the left circle.
“North Dakota is a good team,” said Mannino. “You know they’re going to come hard and shoot pucks and try to get on the rebounds.”
Sometime early in the period, the Sioux lost T.J. Oshie to a leg injury, and Oshie didn’t return till late in the period.
Despite Oshie’s absence, the Sioux continued their strong offensive play, and the Pioneers had to make several excellent defensive plays. Patrick Mullen broke up a two-on-one, and then moments later Chris Butler did the same, playing the pass perfectly.
“I think the guy tried to put a little more pace on it when he slid it across and I knew that if I got a good push off then got my stick on it that hopefully I’d get there at the same time the puck did, and it ended up working out,” said Butler.
The Sioux continued to take penalties however, and it cost them. With Duncan off for slashing, Tyler Bozak redirected a Butler wrist shot past Lamoureux to give the Pioneers a 1-0 lead at 4:39 of the period.
“Chris Butler, who has not been shooting a whole lot from the point, we talked with him this week, and he has a great shot,” said Gwozdecky. “He saw the open lane and fired it, and Tyler Bozak, who was just moved on the power play, was in a great position to use his stick.”
Like last week against Colorado College, the goal gave the Pioneers a huge boost, and they quickly looked to build on their lead. May came streaking down the right side twice and just shot wide left of Lamoureux, and then Dustin Jackson rang a wrist shot off the right post.
“I think that playing against a quality opponent like North Dakota, any time you can have success and get a goal it’s a real emotional boost,” said Gwozdecky. “They’re the type of team that they’re so aggressive, they’re going to try to get that right back and we caught them out of position twice right after we scored, and Lamoureux was there to answer the bell. Obviously it would have been a little easier on me if we could have scored and given ourselves a little cushion.”
However, the Sioux held off the Pioneers and started to generate chances of their own. Mannino closed the five-hole on a laser of a shot by Andrew Kozek from the top of the slot, and VandeVelde hit the near post as he skated out of the left corner and tried a short-angle wrist shot with Mannino down.
As in the first period, the Sioux got a power play opportunity with just over two minutes left, but were unable to capitalize. Matt Watkins had a great chance as the period ended on a Pioneers’ turnover in the neutral zone, but he shot wide right of Mannino.
“I don’t know that we shut them down,” said Butler. “I think we gave them a few too many opportunities; there were a couple of three-on-twos that we gave up that we’d like to have back. They transition the puck well and they’re such good skaters. You just have to be on your toes at all times.”
In the third period, the Pioneers went into a defensive mode, trying to keep the puck out to the perimeter and break up shooting lanes. While the Sioux outshot the Pioneers in the period 13-9, many of the shots were lower quality chances.
“We just changed our forecheck and didn’t play as aggressive as we did,” said Butler. “We went into our neutral zone extended, which is like a trap, if you want to call it that, and have the first guy press the puck and everybody else kind of sits back and plays the man. You don’t want to sit back too much; it’s a very fine line.”
When the Sioux did get a good chance, Mannino proved equal to the task. VandeVelde made a nice move early to blow by Cody Brookwell and get a good shot down low, but Mannino played close to the post and blocked it. On a two-on-one, Mannino stoned Watkins on a great shot.
“We just couldn’t punch one home,” said Hakstol. “Both goaltenders played well. Mannino was excellent, and Phil played very well and gave us an opportunity.”
The Pioneers did get several good chances, but Lamoureux matched Mannino save for save. Brock Trotter had a good chance down low when he tried to tap a shot by Mullen, but he couldn’t lift it over Lamoureux’s right leg. Bozak had a good chance with about five minutes left in the game when he streaked down the right side of the ice one-on-two and cut towards the middle of the slot, firing a backhand that Lamoureux stopped with his right pad.
With 34 seconds left and Lamoureux pulled, the Sioux fans in attendance roared at what they thought was a goal, but Mannino had just managed to reach back and prevent the puck from sliding over the goal line. Upon review, the on-ice call stood. That was the Sioux’s last good chance, as the Pioneers cleared the zone on the ensuing faceoff.