ST. PAUL, Minn. — In their first visit to the Xcel Energy Center in three years, the Denver Pioneers continued their winning ways in the building, going 5-0 by beating the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, 3-1.
“They’ve had a tremendous run from January on and it’s a real honor to be able to compete against them and come out with a win today,” said DU head coach George Gwozdecky.
The first period was a scoreless affair, although the Sioux had 90 seconds of a five-on-three advantage about two and a half minutes in. UND failed to convert, however, and earn the early momentum.
“Early in the first period tonight we generated most of our opportunities on the power play,” said Sioux head coach Dave Hakstol. “Had we been able to get one on one of the early power plays, that has a chance to then turn into momentum for us.”
The Sioux had a golden opportunity to gain some momentum at the end of the opening frame when it appeared as if a Sioux shot hit the inside of top netting, but the motion of the net ended up just being the glove of Pioneer Jesse Martin.
“They initially came and had a couple shots and then it went off to my right side and I spun to be on my backside,” said DU goaltender Peter Mannino (32 saves). “Then the guy got a shot and it hit my stick and went down and Jesse did a great job of keeping it out of the net.”
Due to a rash of unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties assessed to both teams in the resulting scrum, the Sioux gained a second five-on-three advantage to start the second period, but were again unable to convert.
Instead, the Pioneers got on the board first about six minutes in. Tyler Bozak carried the puck up the right side boards and passed it to Patrick Mullen on the point, who dished it to Rhett Rakhshani on the far right hash marks. He wristed it past Lamoureux for a power-play goal and the 1-0 lead.
North Dakota tied it up on a grinding goal six minutes into the third period. Mannino made two saves on both Jake Marto and Darcy Zajac, but the rebound came out to his left and Taylor Chorney was crashing the net to tap it in.
“I was just trying to keep the play alive and then [Brad] Malone kind of covered for me,” said Chorney. “He just told me, you know, “I got you, Chorns, I got you,” and I ended up just going to the net and kind of got lucky.”
With the goal, the Sioux gained the momentum they’d been looking for, but it wasn’t enough to hold off the Pioneers.
“It took a little longer than maybe we would have liked to get things going our way, but any time you score a goal, usually your team kind of rallies around you a bit,” said Chorney. “But I think maybe for us it was too little, too late. It took us too long to get into the game and it ended up costing us.”
The Pioneers took the lead back with 1:20 to play in the third when Anthony Maiani skated end-to-end and backhanded the puck in the top right corner of the net to give his Pioneers a late 2-1 lead.
“I was just waiting for the puck out in front and their guy shot it right out to me,” said Maiani. “I took the puck wide, just going to get it deep and wanted to just get the puck on net, get the change and it happened to go in.
“It came off my stick pretty good. I felt pretty good about it,” he said, insisting he didn’t pick his shot.
After the goal, the Sioux pulled Lamoureux for the man-advantage, but the Pioneers took advantage of a late faceoff near the Sioux’s zone and sealed the victory with a Matt Glasser empty-net goal with 5.3 seconds remaining.
“I think the way the team responded, not only in the first period with the five-on-three shorthanded situation, obviously, but when North Dakota built up that momentum when they scored their tying goal in the third period … you look for teams to respond to those kinds of challenges,” said Gwozdecky. “There’s no question that I was proud of how our team responded.”
The Sioux next play the loser of the Colorado College-Minnesota game at 2:07 p.m. CST Saturday while the Pioneers face off against the winner at 7:07 p.m. in the league’s title game.
As for who Gwozdecky would like to face, well, he’d like to change the rules.
“If there’s any way that we can get a bye, that’s perhaps what I would like to suggest or ask for,” he quipped.