DENVER — For once, the No. 6 Denver Pioneers didn’t depend on their offense to generate a win. In a tight defensive game, the Pioneers got two power-play goals to edge the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs 2-1 and sweep the series. Goaltender Marc Cheverie made 27 saves in the win.
“I think it is important, the way we won the game, much more of a slow down game,” said Pioneers’ Coach George Gwozdecky. “I think we had to kill five power plays in the first period alone. To win, a real gutty effort considering some of the challenges we had, is good for this team. We don’t have to score six goals or five goals every night to win, and obviously Marc Cheverie was a big part of that.”
A penalty-filled first period made it hard for either team to generate much momentum. On the first shift, Denver’s Cody Brookwell was called for interference when a Bulldogs’ played crashed goalie Marc Cheverie. The power play was negated 13 seconds later when Josh Meyers was called for tripping Tyler Bozak.
With the steady stream of power plays, the Bulldogs had the better of the early chances. Mike Montgomery just missed connecting with a wide open Michael Gergen on the far left side post, and then Denver’s Patrick Mullen made a nice play by sliding on his stomach to break up a pass through the crease. Nick Kemp had a chance on the right side of the crease go just wide, and Cheverie made the save of the period near the end of another Bulldogs’ power play, robbing MacGregor Sharp on his quick shot from the left circle with his right pad.
“It was a good weekend for us, real solid defensively, and for me I just wanted to play two solid games and try to minimize the mental lapses I’ve had to start this year,” said Cheverie. “Obviously you always want to play well and I just want to build on this.”
On the other end of the ice, Alex Stalock didn’t see as much action, but did make a good save on a backhand chance by Kyle Ostrow, who showed great speed on an end-to-end rush up the right side.
The Bulldogs came out firing again in the second. On the first shift, Jack Connolly tried to stuff it past Cheverie after he came flying down the right side two-on-one, but Cheverie made the stop.
Ostrow continued his strong play, and used his impressive speed to generate several strong chances, including a breakaway where he tried to go five-hole on Stalock, who made the save.
“He’s got great speed,” said Gwozdecky of Ostrow. “That’s a pretty good line for us. Kyle’s got the speed, and Anthony’s (Maiani) got the hands and Jesse’s (Martin) a pretty good pivot.”
The penalty kill for both teams continued to be tested, but the Pioneers finally broke through. After a five-on-three ended and the Bulldogs got a skater back, Patrick Wiercioch corralled the puck in the left corner and fed Maiani through the crease in the right circle. Maiani spied Joe Colborne at the top of the slot and fed him a pass, and Colborne one-timed a snap shot stick side past a diving Stalock at 14:41.
“I was just in the right place at the right time,” said Colborne. “It was a great pass from Anthony. He found me in the slot and I just one-touched it. We knew he was a very aggressive goalie. He over-committed a little bit and I had that side open.”
Bulldogs’ coach Scott Sandelin felt that the play was offsides. “I’m a little upset about that. Watch him on the tape; he was offsides.”
However, late in the period, while on a delayed five-on-three call, Gergen took a shot from the left point that hit Bozak’s skate in the crease and went in at 18:40.
“The thing I like about Chevy is how hard he battles after a mistake; he battles even harder,” said Gwozdecky.
The Bulldogs started the third with some power play time leftover from the delayed call at the end of the second, but were unable to take the lead, as the Pioneers clamped down defensively.
“The weekend came down to special teams; their special teams were better than ours,” said Sandelin. “They were very aggressive which we knew coming in, and we didn’t execute. Other than that, it was a pretty even game. I always hate those power plays where you start kind of halfway through, but I thought all three periods were even.”
“We knew if we stayed out of the box and stayed disciplined we’d be OK because five-on-five we were carrying the play pretty well,” said Colborne. “We were lucky we had ‘Chevs’ on his game tonight.”
The Pioneers had the better of the early play in the third. Bozak almost connected on a pass with Colborne through slot, and Stalock robbed Jesse Martin on a one-timer off two-on-one with Ostrow.
Once again, the Pioneers’ power play came through. Assistant captain Tyler Ruegsegger, who has struggled offensively, came down slot, took pass from Colborne and one-timed a shot high glove side past Stalock at 8:16.
Down a goal, the Bulldogs put relentless pressure on the Pioneers, outshooting them 10-3 in the third. Cheverie made a great save on Sharp stuff attempt from down low, and preserved the win by stopping a Meyers’ canon from the point as time expired.