ST. PAUL, Minn. — With little but WCHA bragging rights on the line, Denver netminder Peter Mannino and Minnesota goalie Alex Kangas put on a show.
By the time the final whistle blew, Mannino, the battle-tested senior, had bested Kangas, the outstanding freshman.
Mannino made 34 saves and allowed only one goal as the Denver Pioneers won the Broadmoor Trophy for the fifth time, knocking off Minnesota 2-1 on Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center.
“I expected a battle tonight,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said.
He got one. With all three goals scored in the game’s middle frame, it was a late score by Denver that was the last tally of the night.
Within the final minute of the second period, senior right-winger Tom May put the Pioneers ahead by doing what few have been able to accomplish lately — beating Kangas in a one-on-one battle.
May was able to elude Minnesota captain Derek Peltier and snagged himself a mini-breakaway with the score knotted at one. He faded to his right and slipped the puck between Kangas’ legs, putting the Pioneers on top for a lead they would defend for the remainder of the game.
“I got the pass from Anthony Maiani in the neutral zone,” May said. “(Peltier) came in wide and I got to the middle and just threw it on net. Got fortunate to get it five-hole.”
Minnesota came out strong early on, forcing Mannino to be sharp from the get-go, but the Gophers would soon run into penalty trouble, which swung momentum in Denver’s direction. The Pioneers heaved 15 shots on net in the first period, partially powered by three man advantages in the period, including an extended 4-on-3 opportunity that rendered several outstanding chances that Kangas kept out of the net.
Denver nearly took the first goal of the game about five minutes into the second period. A flurry in front of the net resulted in a quick shot by the Pioneers that was saved by Kangas, who flipped it up into the air, but it got behind him. Senior Derek Peltier was waiting right behind, however, to make the secondary save.
Seconds later, a shot from the point by freshman blueliner Stu Bickel found good air, but Denver goaltender Peter Mannino was in excellent position to stop it. With little other traffic in front, sophomore Ryan Flynn redirected Bickel’s blast with an outstretched stick, redirecting the shot up and over Mannino’s glove and in. Referee Todd Anderson reviewed the play to determine whether Flynn’s stick was above the crossbar, but the goal was upheld, giving the Gophers the all-important first goal.
That importance was diminished minutes later on a bizarre bounce which allowed Denver to draw level. Freshman Tyler Bozak, working the puck behind the net, tried to find Rhett Rakhshani with a centering pass, but the pass instead deflected off Minnesota defenseman Cade Fairchild in front of the net and directly into the back of the net before Alex Kangas could react. Bozak was credited with an unassisted goal.
Back to square one for the next ten minutes — until May beat Kangas with his breakout.
“Bozak had a chance like that earlier and I tried pokechecking and he lost control,” Kangas said. “I tried to get him to mess up and maybe fumble the puck, but he made a nice move around my stick and went five-hole.”
The Gophers worked hard in the third period to draw square, but Mannino stood on his head, stopping 14 shots.
“I thought we outplayed them in the third period,” Minnesota forward Ben Gordon said.
The statistics showed a pretty clear advantage for the Gophers, as they outshot the Pioneers 14-4 in the final stanza.
The announced crowd of over 17,000 fans tried to will the Gophers toward the tying goal, and with Kangas out of the net, Minnesota had several opportunities late, but could not solve Mannino. Tyler Bozak was able to get in the way of a big blast from the point with seconds left, and a slapper from Fairchild blistered just wide in the final ticks.
May, a native of nearby Eagan, Minn., goes down with a game winner in his final game in his home state.
“It was great to get back and win it in front of a lot of family and friends,” he said. “I think I had my own cheering section up there somewhere.”
It was apparent throughout that the Gophers were missing a step, a likely side effect of three games in three days and six in nine days.
“I think we were a little bit tired,” Gordon said. “I think almost all weekend we were running on adrenaline.”
“The guys have been through so much,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “But ultimately, we did what we needed to do.
“Maybe if this was the first game, Derek (Peltier) would have had another half-step on (Tom) May. It’s tough.”
Mannino has had plenty of success against Minnesota, especially this season. In five games against the Gophers, he never allowed more than a single goal in any game, and the Pioneers were 4-0-1 against the defending tournament champions.
“It looks like he is in a zone right now,” Lucia said. “If he could play us 30 times a year he’d probably be signing a pro contract right now, and he’d have to give us some of the bonus.”
“With these guys in front of me, it’s easy to stay calm,” Mannino said. “I knew I’d have to keep them off the board as long as I could, even after that first goal, because I knew Alex (Kangas) would still play well throughout.”
Despite the loss, Kangas was named MVP of the tournament for his efforts in powering the Gophers to the doorstep of a Broadmoor Trophy defense. He had 32 saves in the losing effort.
“I’d rather get the victory than anything else,” Kangas said. “It was nice, though. I didn’t think I would be able to get the MVP.”
Both teams will advance to the NCAA tournament, and pairings will be announced on Sunday morning.
“For us, it is not a good season if we do not make the NCAA tournament,” Lucia said. “That’s not too much of a secret. We did not back in, we earned our way in.”
“To be able to go into the national tournament with two wins is important,” Gwozdecky said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to tap into some of the experience we’ve gained this weekend and use it to our advantage.”