DENVER — In the middle of a losing streak in which they have been badly outplayed in consecutive games, the No. 4 Denver Pioneers needed a shakeup, and coach George Gwozdecky decided to give freshman Marc Cheverie his first start of the year. Cheverie responded, making 26 saves in a 4-2 win over the Bemidji State Beavers.
“We needed to somehow snap our guys out of habits, and one of the ways I thought was to put Marc in net,” said Gwozdecky. “Marc’s not proven; no one knows what he can do in a game when he starts. There is a real urgency to this game and we had to do something to try to shake up our team.”
The Beavers started strong. On their first shift, their forecheck forced a turnover, resulting in a good chance that Cheverie stopped. The Beavers built on that momentum, and had several quality scoring chances. Cheverie made a big save on Matt Read’s backhand wraparound attempt, and the Beavers had a great two-on-one go awry when Tyler Lehrke’s pass just went past the outstretched stick of Ryan Cramer.
Bemidji finally got on the board at 6:19. Tyler Scofield took a pass from Travis Winter and broke in alone on Cheverie, deked to his backhand and slid it through Cheverie’s legs.
“We have a lot of pride in our program, and we came in here to win,” said Beavers’ coach Tom Serratore. “We respect those guys, and there’s not much we could have done tonight.”
The Beavers looked to build on that lead almost immediately, and Cheverie made a huge right pad save on Graham McManaman’s blast from the right point, and then another stop on Matt Pope’s wrist shot from low in the left slot.
“Patience is the biggest thing for me,” said Cheverie. “I just refocused and tried to put it behind me right away. Getting that first shot was huge, and making the save after that goal was huge.”
The Pioneers finally turned things around on a harmless-looking play. Rhett Rakhshani skated down the left side boards, held up just inside the blue line, and fired a shot that deflected off a Bemidji skate and ended up in between the legs of a Beavers’ defenseman, where Tyler Bozak grabbed it and fired it top shelf glove side at 9:32.
“We knew something had to change, and we addressed it as a team,” said Rakhshani. “We talked about not taking games off and holding each other accountable.”
You could almost feel the Pioneers breathe easier at that point, and they started to settle down in the offensive zone and make better passes. They converted at 14:00 of the period when Brandon Vossberg picked up the puck in the left corner and, as he spun towards the boards, backhanded the puck to Matt Glasser alone in the slot. Glasser one-timed it past Orlando Alamano to give the Pioneers the lead.
“We certainly could feel us relax on the bench,” said Gwozdecky. “The team you have seen over the last two games wasn’t the team we had seen over the course of the season. Something had drastically changed.”
Buoyed by their first lead since early in the first period last Saturday against Wisconsin, the Pioneers started generating excellent chances. Tyler Ruegsegger ripped a shot from the top of the slot that went through the legs of Alamano, trickled towards the net, and stopped at the left post.
Late in the period, while on a power play, Jesse Martin passed the puck from behind the net to Brock Trotter at the right side of the crease. Trotter quickly fired it five-hole and lifted his arms in celebration, only to stare and realize that Alamano closed his legs before the puck crossed the line. After a lengthy video review, the no-goal call stood.
Bemidji had a couple of good chances early in the second, including a shot by Blaine Jarvis from the slot, and a two-on-one shorthanded opportunity that Cheverie managed to stop with his left pad.
With Denver on a power play, Rakhshani picked up the puck at the top of the left circle, skated into the middle, faked, then fired a shot home top shelf glove side at 3:57.
“The puck actually went past me,” said Rakhshani. “I was on the left side and Tom May came up and he did a good job of tying up the guy who was going after it. I think he kind of chipped it to me, so their guys were flat-footed and I just cut into the middle and the goalie couldn’t stay with it and I beat him far side.”
The Beavers countered with their own power-play goal at the midway point of the period. Pope picked up the puck in the left corner, took a stride towards the net and slid a pass through the slot to Jarvis, who had been left all alone on the far side post. Jarvis fired it into the open net at 11:22.
Denver had a couple of chances late in the period to recapture their two-goal lead. Alamano just got his right blocker on Martin’s shot from the right circle, and, Rakhshani made a nifty move to split the ‘D’ on a shorthanded try, but his shot hit the left post.
The Pioneers continued to pressure Bemidji early in the third. Alamano made a good save on a Tom May shot from the slot, and then Trotter sent a pass through the crease that Bozak just tipped wide, and Glasser rang a shot from the right circle off the near post.
“We haven’t been playing our best hockey as of late, but we stuck with it, trying to get back to what works, and tonight was a good showing of what we’ve been doing well all year,” said Trotter. “We moved the puck well; Rakhshani was on our line tonight; he played really well too. I think we worked really well together and made some plays.”
Bemidji had several good chances as well. Cramer got in alone on Cheverie in the slot, but Cheverie made a left pad stop, and then Winter had a chance from down low that Cheverie saved.
“That’s just a better hockey team,” said Serratore. “We played as well as we could and it was a tough night. We had a hard time; it was hard at times to keep up with them. Overall, we’re happy with our play tonight.”
Trotter finally gave the Pioneers a little more breathing room on a shorthanded tally. Trotter picked the puck up along the left boards at center ice and skated in, almost losing it at the blue line and going offsides, but keeping it just far enough ahead as he broke in alone on Alamano. Trotter faked, got Alamano to commit, then skated to his right and slid the puck behind Alamano’s left pad.
“I was pleased with the effort, and the urgency was certainly there,” said Gwozdecky. “I think over the course of the last two games, not only has our performance not been there, but it has really affected our confidence. We needed to compete harder, and I thought we did.”