DENVER — In order to send a message to his players, University of Alaska Anchorage coach Dave Shyiak benched two of his top players, forwards Josh Lunden and Tommy Grant, for Saturday night’s game against the University of Denver.
The message worked, as it was an entirely different Seawolves team that showed up and beat the Pioneers, 3-2 in overtime, to earn the weekend split.
“We had six walk-ons in the line-up tonight,” said Shyiak.
“I give Dave Shyiak a lot of credit,” said Pioneer coach George Gwozdecky. “He wasn’t happy with his top [players], he sat them out tonight and sent a very strong message to his team that he wasn’t going to stand for anything but hard work and effort and he got just that.”
The start of the game saw the Seawolves looking as lethargic as they were Friday night. The Pioneers put pressure on Seawolves’ netminder Bryce Christianson (30 saves) early and almost broke through about six minutes into the first period. Christianson, sprawled out in the crease, somehow gloved down a Luke Salazar attempt.
However, Denver did manage to get on the board first 7:42 into the period when Brian Gifford curled around the back of the net, came out on Christianson’s right and backhanded the puck into the goal.
J.P. Testwuide put the Pioneers up 2-0 just 67 seconds later with a blast from the point.
DU almost made it a 3-0 game on a power play at around the 6:40 mark of the second period. Tyler Ruegsegger passed the puck across to Salazar back door, but he was once again robbed by Christianson.
The Seawolves had the next best chance about two minutes later when a Jared Tuton shot hit the crossbar behind DU goaltender Marc Cheverie (16 saves).
However, UAA did manage to cut the Pioneers’ lead down to one on a power play at the 10:43 mark of the frame when Trevor Hunt fired a rocket from the point that snuck under Cheveries right shoulder.
The Pioneers got a golden chance to extend their lead with 2:07 remaining in the second when UAA’s Kevin Clark was given a five-minute major for boarding and a game disqualification. Chris Nutini was in the near corner to the right of the net going after the puck when Clark threw a shoulder and hit Nutini. Nutini almost appeared to have tripped over his skates, and he somehow changed direction and hit the boards head on and lay on the ice for several minutes before being assisted off by a trainer. As a result, Clark got tossed from the game.
The Pioneers were unable to score on the resulting power play, which carried over into the third period.
Both teams battled through the third, with the Seawolves knotting the game at two with 2:27 left in the game. Paul Crowder carried the puck into the Denver zone while short-handed and slid a pass across ice to Mat Robinson, who tucked it past Cheverie, sending the game into overtime.
“We could not get possession of the puck in the offensive zone on the power play almost to the point I’m feeling like I should decline the power play,” said Gwozdecky. “That power play we had with two and a half minutes to go in the game at that point, you just play keep-away and you don’t let the other team have possession of the puck. You just kind of let the clock run down and unfortunately, we made a couple of critical errors on the power play early and they scored to tie the game.”
UAA continued to control play during the overtime period, including hitting a few posts. Nick Haddad had two, including one with 1:30 remaining.
“In the overtime, it looked like we had never been in that position before, which is uncharacteristic [for us],” said Testwuide. “Those are the games that we love to play in.”
The pressure paid off when Curtis Leinweber got a pass from the near corner and backhanded it off the left post and in past Cheverie with just 17.5 seconds remaining.
“Obviously, when we started to play with a little bit more desperation, we scored that second goal, the short-handed goal and we talked about playing with more desperation and going for the win,” said Shyiak. “I thought they were getting tired [in overtime] and we tried to take advantage of that,”
“The last two minutes of overtime was something to behold,” said Gwozdecky, almost at a loss for words. “I’m still shaking my head trying to figure it out. Giving up two-on-ones, guys wide open in front, breakaway, all I can say is that Anchorage did a great job and I would like to think that this will be something that will drive us to become a lot better.”
The Pioneers travel to Minnesota-Duluth next weekend while the Seawolves host St. Cloud State.