DENVER — After a disappointing effort Friday night, the No. 10 Denver Pioneers held a closed-door players-only team meeting to discuss their recent woes. Whatever was said in the locker room must have sunk in. Marc Cheverie made 34 saves in his first collegiate shutout to lead the Pioneers to a 4-0 win over the No. 1 Minnesota Golden Gophers.
“I was just trying not to think about it, because you usually jinx yourself if you do,” said Cheverie of the shutout effort. “I just wanted to get the win. That was the number one team in the country there, and we just wanted to show we could play with the big dogs. We want to become a team together, support each other and have each other’s backs. When you’re losing, people start to point the finger, and we wanted to get away from that.”
Ryan Stoa, who had three points Friday night, came out and almost immediately tested Cheverie again, forcing Cheverie to make a tough stop on a partial breakaway. That save seemed to give the Pioneers some confidence.
“I just cut the angle down and he made the shot, and I was in position,” said Cheverie. “It looks important now, but it was great to get off to a good start.”
“First 25 seconds of the game, we weren’t planning on giving the puck to Stoa so he could walk in all alone on Cheverie; that was not a great way to start the game, but Marc was up to the task, not only on that play but all game,” said Pioneers’ coach George Gwozdecky.
That confidence was boosted when Tyler Bozak, who has scored in every game he has played against Minnesota, came through again for Denver at 4:39. Stationed behind the goal line to the left of the net, he fed a perfect pass to Matt Glasser in the slot, and Kangas made a great stop. However, Bozak stepped out to his left from behind the net, picked up the puck, and made a spinning shot on net that banked in off of Kangas’ left pad.
“We knew we had to come out as hard as we can,” said Bozak. “I think it was a big spark. We haven’t gotten the first goal in a game in I think four games now, so it was nice to get that lead and create a little energy for the team, and we built off it pretty good.”
The Pioneers opened up some offensively after that goal, firing 14 shots on net in the first period. Kangas made several excellent saves, and robbed Kyle Ostrow from the slot near the end of the period. Bozak buzzed all over the ice, forcing the Gophers to adjust to his play.
“I’m always trying to be better; I don’t know if I am or not,” laughed Bozak. “I’m lucky enough to play with great wingers on my line, so it makes it easy for me.”
At the other end of the ice, Cheverie was tested almost as much. His best stop came on a mid-air deflection by Mike Hoeffel from the left circle that changed direction and took a funny hop on net. Cade Fairchild also had an excellent opportunity, but couldn’t stuff it in from the left post.
“He was sharp tonight,” said Gophers’ coach Don Lucia of Cheverie. “We had some good looks. Some of the pucks that went in last night didn’t go in tonight. They played desperate tonight, and it’s so close (in our league), the desperate team usually wins. They played a lot harder tonight, and they deserved to win.”
Bozak continued to bedevil the Gophers early in the second, drawing a penalty on Fairchild for hooking when he got a partial breakaway. On the ensuing power play, Patrick Wiercioch fired a low shot from the right point towards Anthony Maiani at the right post, and Maiani redirected the shot past Kangas at 4:45 of the second.
“He was probably our best guy last night, and I thought he was even more effective tonight,” said Gwozdecky of Bozak. “Obviously, he scores a big first goal for us and gives us a boost. He logged a lot of ice time. I thought he was one of our top players again tonight, and I matched him as much as I felt comfortable against their top line.”
Both teams had their share of chances in the second. Kangas robbed Tyler Ruegsegger on a shot from the right circle, while Cheverie made a great glove save on Fairchild’s backhand from the top of the slot, and robbed Taylor Matson’s finishing redirection of a cross-crease pass from right in the slot, getting his right pad down in time.
“I just reacted; I thought he was going to shoot it,” said Cheverie. “I didn’t really read it too well, and it sat on the goal line for about 30 seconds after that, and I reached back and grabbed it. I got lucky on that one (laughs).”
The physical play and after the whistle altercations continued in the period, and after the final horn sounded, Minnesota’s Jay Barriball hit Brian Gifford from behind, drawing a two-minute roughing and two minute bench minor. Pioneer’s captain J.P. Testwuide retaliated, leveling Barriball from behind and earning a five-minute major for cross-checking and a game disqualification.
The Pioneers started the third on a four-on-three power play as a result of the after-the-period fracas. Both Bozak and Ruegsegger had good chances from down low, but Kangas made several great stops.
Rhett Rakhshani, who has struggled of late, got a big goal at 6:14 on a great effort. Rakhshani broke up the right side of the ice, eluded a Gophers’ defender at the blue line and raced in on Kangas. He fired a wrist shot from the right circle that hit the crossbar, and the rebound ricocheted into the crease. Rakhshani circled around behind the net, came out to his right and stepped back into the crease and poked the puck past Kangas.
Brandon Vossberg closed out the scoring for DU with a great short-handed goal. While in the Pioneers’ zone, Vossberg forechecked Hoeffel and fought for control of the puck, which came out into the neutral zone. Vossberg got a step on Hoeffel and raced in alone on Kangas, beating him five-hole at 9:11 for an unassisted goal.
“It was a much needed effort, and obviously with the effort we got and the kind of goaltending Marc gave us, it was an important win for us,” said Gwozdecky. “I thought Stephen Cunningham, Brandon Vossberg and Julian Marcuzzi, they didn’t get a lot of ice time, but they gave us enthusiasm in the locker room, they gave us energy. Obviously, Brandon Vossberg scored a big short-handed goal for us. They really were the glue, I thought, for our team tonight.”