DENVER — It wasn’t always a pretty game, but the No. 3 Denver Pioneers ultimately prevailed over the Dartmouth Big Green, 5-3, in the championship game of the Wells Fargo Denver Cup. Sophomore forward Brock Trotter, who was named the tournament MVP, had another three point night to help Denver defend their title.
“I think a lot of guys kind of stepped up this weekend,” said Trotter. “Everyone played really well.”
Both teams came out with a lot of quickness, and the play moved from end to end with surprising rapidity. Pioneers’ goalie Peter Mannino absolute robbed Matt Reber on Reber’s quick snap shot from the left circle, making a diving glove save that left Reber shaking his head.
Trotter continued his hot play and got the Pioneers on the board first. Tyler Bozak blocked a Dartmouth pass in his defensive zone and spied Trotter breaking behind the ‘D’ and flipped it out to him. Trotter broke in alone on netminder Mike Devine, got Devine to commit, then cut to his right and slid the puck along the ice behind Devine’s left pad at 12:17.
“I didn’t really have anything planned out,” said Trotter. “I didn’t know I was getting a breakaway right then and there, but Bozak ended up making a hell of play. He dove at it and passed it up to me. I just made a quick move to my forehand.”
Trotter had another near-breakaway chance moments later, speeding down the left side boards, but his shot went high.
As the Pioneers took control of the play, the Big Green took a couple of penalties, but the Pioneers couldn’t convert the opportunities. Devine made several strong saves, including one of Bozak from in close, and another late in the period on Dustin Jackson, who had an open net to shoot at from the left circle, only to see Devine slide over and make the save with his right pad.
Dartmouth really picked up their play in the second period, helped by a series of Pioneers’ penalties. Denver took four straight penalties, setting up two five-on-three power plays for the Big Green.
Dartmouth capitalized on the first five-on-three early in the period. Evan Stephens took a shot from the right point. Mannino made the initial save, but the puck came back out to Rob Pritchard in the crease, and he backhanded it along the ice past Mannino’s oustretched left pad at 3:23.
Dartmouth continued to pepper Mannino with shots, outshooting the Pioneers 17-4 in the period, but Mannino held down the fort, making several spectacular saves from down low.
“We had a couple of tough periods in that game, and one of them was that 10-minute period in the second, but we were able to weather the storm for the most part,” said Pioneers’ coach George Gwozdecky.
The Pioneers responded with a power play goal of their own to take back the lead. Kyle Ostrow, stationed down low on the right post, took a pass from Brock Trotter and fired the puck high past a diving Devine at 9:27.
“I think we tried to kill them off as best we can,” said Trotter. “Pete had a good game and kind of bailed us out a couple of times.”
Early in the third period, the Pioneers had a golden chance to take command of the game when Dartmouth’s Peter Boldt was called for holding at 3:16. Instead, it was the Big Green who seized the momentum back on a comedy of errors by the Pioneers.
As they carried the puck up ice, Trotter and Bozak collided near the red line, and the puck squirted free. Dartmouth’s J.T. Wyman knocked the puck over the blue line, got behind Chris Butler and raced after it. Mannino attempted to beat Wyman to the puck, but Wyman easily got to it, stepped to his left around Mannino and slide the puck into the empty net, tying the score at 3:57.
“I think the momentum switched hugely in the game, but we just stuck to our game plan,” said Trotter. “Good things happen and we scored a couple more.”
The Pioneers didn’t panic however, and got the lead back at 9:13 when Jesse Martin picked the puck up and started to skate behind the Dartmouth goal, then slid the puck out front where it hit a Dartmouth skate and rebounded inside the right post.
“We set up a play that we’ve been working on that we copied from the Buffalo Sabres,” laughed Anthony Maiani, who assisted on the go-ahead goal and the game winner. “I go to the side boards and give it to strong point, who shot it. It went behind the net to Martin and he sent it out and it went in off a skate.”
Chris Butler scored what proved to be the game-winner on a power play at 14:13. Maiani, stationed in the right circle, slid a pass to Butler as he skated down the middle, and Butler fired it high glove side to give the Pioneers a cushion.
Bozak added an empty net tally at 18:50 to make it 5-2, but Pritchard made it a two-goal game again at 19:20, firing a shot low stick side from the middle of the right circle that handcuffed Mannino. The Pioneers tightened up for the rest of the game, preventing Dartmouth from getting any closer.
“I was pleased with the way our guys battled,” said Big Green coach Bob Gaudet. “It’s a really good learning experience for us. We’ve got a young team that plays really hard, but we’re disappointed to lose. I thought our guys played hard and got better and better as the game progressed. I’m not disappointed with the effort; I’m not really disappointed with the execution either. We battled right down to the end.”
Trotter and Wyman, along with Northern Michigan’s Phil Fox were named to the all-tournament team as forwards, while Butler and captain Andrew Thomas were named as defenseman. Mannino took home the all-tournament goaltender honors.
“I think what you’re starting to see in our team, a big part of our identity, is our ability to respond to some very difficult challenges,” said Gwozdecky. “There wasn’t a lot of momentum we had coming into the third period, and obviously any momentum we had was sucked out of the building when we gave up that shorthanded goal, and yet, this team has a very unique ability to respond to challenges. That’s a very powerful weapon we have.”