DENVER — Lifted by two goals from sophomore forward Kyle Ostrow and a goal and assist from senior defenseman Patrick Mullen, the No. 5 Denver Pioneers clinched home ice for the WCHA playoffs with a gritty 3-1 win over No. 19 St. Cloud State.
“I thought it was a hard-earned win,” said Pioneers’ coach George Gwozdecky. “To be able to clinch by what we were able to do and not waiting for anybody else to help us is certainly a positive. With two games remaining in the regular season, we’ve set ourselves up to finish as high as possible, whether that’s first, second or third.”
Denver dominated the first period offensively from the drop of the puck. On their first shift, DU’s top line had a great chance when Tyler Ruegsegger got the puck in the slot, but Jase Weslosky made the stop. On their next shift, Rhett Rakhshani carried the puck in and fired a great wrist shot from the top of the left circle that Weslosky gloved.
“Weslosky played really well; he was outstanding,” said Gwozdecky. “We had two or three great opportunities and he made some great glove saves.”
The Huskies best early chance came from Garrett Roe, who made a pretty play near the right circle, dragging the puck back between his legs and spinning a backhander on net. At the end of the play, Pioneers’ captain J.P. Testwuide came through the slot and leveled Roe, leaving him lying on the ice shaken up. Roe eventually was helped to the bench, but returned later in the period.
Despite playing a lot of defense early, it was St. Cloud who got on the board first, striking quickly on an opportune play when Brian Volpei carried the puck to his right across the crease, looking at an open net. Volpei couldn’t control it, and it came to Chris Hepp at the right point. He fired a shot on net, and the puck ended up on the stick of Drew LeBlanc at the left post. LeBlanc tapped it into the open net at 12:10.
“We had the bye week off, so we were a little rusty early,” said Huskies’ coach Bob Motzko. “We got better. We got the goal to settle in and really I thought we played pretty well.”
Denver continued to play aggressive defense in the second period, making several big hits. Patrick Mullen upended an onrushing St. Cloud forward with a perfectly timed hip check to the roar of the crowd.
“All those things are pieces to the puzzle,” said Gwozdecky. “Obviously a play like that where you make a check, you usually come up with the puck and start the transition on the attack again, and that gives you some momentum.”
The Pioneers finally got on the board at 8:44 off a four-on-two rush. Mullen, Ruegsegger and Colborne rushed in low with Kyle Ostrow trailing the play. Mullen got a pass to Colborne in the left circle, and he fired it on net. Weslosky made a pad save, but the rebound came right to Ostrow by the left post, and he one-timed it high glove side past Weslosky.
“I was just driving the net hard and it ended up coming to me,” said Ostrow. “I tried to get it from my backhand to forehand as quick as possible and get it on net, and luckily I had an open net there.”
Denver took the lead early in the third. Mullen took a pass from Matt Glasser and raced up the ice two-on-one with Luke Salazar. Mullen fired a wicked wrist shot off the crossbar and in top shelf glove side at 2:42
“I really wasn’t thinking pass at all, so I didn’t even see who it was,” said Mullen. “The defenseman has to respect the other guy.”
St. Cloud had several chances on a series of power plays in the third. On one, they tried to set up LeBlanc back door with an open net, but he wasn’t able to corral the pass.
“We certainly didn’t make it easy on ourselves with the penalties we took in the third period,” said Gwozdecky. “I thought our guys did a real good job. Our forecheck was effective and we were effective at clearing the zone. Chevy (Marc Cheverie) made a couple of big saves.”
“Our power play was not good tonight,” said Motzko. “We lost the battles on the power play and we’re running a lot of freshman on the power play, and they showed some jitters.”
After killing off two consecutive penalties, Denver capitalized late on a power play of their own. Ostrow got a pass from Salazar and carried it down the left side, firing a shot on net from the left faceoff dot. After the shot, he took a stride into the slot, where he picked up the rebound and roofed it top shelf stick side at 15:32.
“We didn’t get a lot of power plays, so to get a power-play goal of our own was big for our confidence,” said Ostrow. “I think that was a big turning point of the game for us.”
The only sour note for the Pioneers was the loss early in the game of junior forward Rakhshani.
“It’s a lower body injury; he’s questionable at best for tomorrow night,” said Gwozdecky. “I thought the adjustments we made after Rhett went down were effective and will probably look something like that tomorrow night.”