HOUGHTON, Mich. — What was billed as a battle of two of the best goaltenders in the WCHA didn’t disappoint, as the No. 7 Denver Pioneers’ Peter Mannino barely out-dueled the Michigan Tech Huskies’ Michael-Lee Teslak for a slim 1-0 win. In doing so, Mannino earned his fifth shutout of the season and the 14th of his career, good for tops in Pioneers’ history.
“I thought both goaltenders played extremely well,” said Pioneers’ coach George Gwozdecky. “I think in a one-goal game like this both teams had their chances.”
The scoreless tie for 39:47 was finally broken when freshman winger Dustin Jackson buried a rebound past Teslak at the 19:47 mark of the second period. Freshman winger Kyle Ostrow fanned on the initial shot, whose rebound Jackson beat a Huskies’ defender to. The game-winning goal was Jackson’s second of the season.
“If (Ostrow) would have got (the shot off hard), the puck would have hit me and bounced somewhere hard,” said Teslak. “He fanned on it and it ended up not bouncing far off me.”
The opening frame was like a chapter from the Twilight Zone, as neither team could hold onto the puck for more than a second or two. Neither squad was particularly crisp with their passes either, as evidenced on the Pioneers’ first man advantage, where the forwards either fanned on shots or passed the puck out of the offensive zone repeatedly.
“It’s frustrating; I thought the kids played pretty well,” said Huskies’ coach Jamie Russell. “Same old story, we had great chances.”
The best chance the Huskies (11-17-5 overall, 7-14-4 WCHA) had came off a two-on-one break when freshman forwards Eric Kattelus and Jordan Baker cut into the zone. Kattelus used Baker as a decoy and blasted a long shot that Mannino held on to.
The Pioneers (22-10-1 overall, 16-8-1 WCHA) had a golden opportunity to take the lead late in the period when freshman center Tyler Bozak took a pass in the slot and spun to fire a backhand past Teslak. The shot hit the post to Teslak’s right, careened off the crossbar and back out into the slot and away from trouble. Teslak finished the night with 21 stops.
Sophomore winger Ryan Bunger had a chance to give the Huskies the lead shortly after, but he couldn’t quite pull the trigger as he was knocked down.
The Huskies controlled the early stages of the second period, getting four shots through to Mannino in the first couple minutes. The Pioneers were forced to take a penalty due to the constant pressure, but the Huskies couldn’t convert.
“You just have to keep plugging away,” said Russell. “I think we’re getting a number of Grade ‘A’ chances and they’re just not going in for us.”
Freshman winger Anthony Maiani and sophomore winger Rhett Rakhshani tried to relieve some of the Huskies’ pressure by flying into the Huskies’ zone on a two-on-one. They were met by assistant captain John Schwarz, who stood his ground and broke up the play.
With two members of both squads off for a variety of penalties, freshman center Eric Kattelus stole the puck from a Pioneers’ defender and nearly stuffed the puck past Mannino. Mannino finished the game with 21 stops en route to his 21st win on the season.
“Tonight was one of those nights for Peter,” said Gwozdecky. “He made probably three or four spectacular saves.”
The Pioneers got a late power play when Huskies’ defenseman Geoff Kinrade was whistled for hooking. The call, though questionable, was one that Jon Campion had to make as it took place in front of the Pioneers’ bench.
Less than four minutes into the third period, the Huskies had a golden opportunity to even the game at one, but even with Mannino laying on his back, the Huskies couldn’t find anything but a goalpost, leaving Russell wondering who he’d have to pay to help his team score a goal.
A little over halfway through the period, junior center Ryan Angelow fed junior winger Malcolm Gwilliam in front of Mannino, but he couldn’t find any chinks in Mannino’s armor.
Russell pulled Teslak with just under a minute remaining, but even with an extra skater on the ice, the Huskies couldn’t solve the Rubik’s cube that was Mannino.
“Right now, it’s all about wins,” said Mannino. “I think our guys got a good wake-up call to understand what it’s going to take at this point in the season.”
With the shutout, Mannino moved past former Pioneer Gerry Powers for first all time. Powers set the mark during his stellar career from 1966 to 1969. Powers had spoken with Mannino several times prior to tonight’s game.
“I got to meet Gerry quite a bit and he’s been very supportive,” said Mannino. “I’ve been playing with some great teams and some great players over the last four years. This is a big thank you to them.”