DENVER — In an up and down offensive battle, the No. 1 Denver Pioneers twice battled back from a two-goal deficit to edge No. 14 Vermont 5-4, before a crowd of 5,499 at Magness Arena, in a game that marked the program’s 60th year. Many former Pioneers’ players were in attendance.
Sophomore forward Joe Colborne, a first round pick of the Boston Bruins in 2008, was a force all night, scoring two goals, including the game winner, and generating several other chances.
“Our whole team, I think the opening night jitters really affected us,” said Pioneers’ coach George Gwozdecky. “I think Vermont played really well, really smart. That’s a tough team to go against because they’re so strong and experienced on the blue line and in goal. I really think our guys put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform well. I think they were maybe a little too tight.”
The back and forth first period featured good opportunities from both teams, and Vermont goalie Rob Madore and Denver goalie Marc Cheverie were both called on to make big stops. Madore stopped a point blank Colborne shot from the right circle, and Cheverie made a good stop on a rebound attempt by Vermont captain Brian Roloff.
Madore also got some help from the post when Kyle Ostrow poked the puck past the Vermont defense and broke in alone, only to have his wrist shot hit the left post.
The Catamounts got on the board first at 14:19. As a penalty to Catamount forward Brayden Irwin expired, he stepped out of the box and joined a rush, turning it into a three-on-one. Irwin got a pass from Wahsontiio Stacey as he got over the blue line and fired a shot on net that Cheverie got a piece of, but Patrick Cullity picked up the rebound behind Cheverie and poked it home.
Ostrow got DU on the board at the 16:14 mark of the period, picking up a rebound of a Matt Glasser shot at the right of the net and sliding it low past Madore.
Vermont quickly regained the lead however. Sebastian Stalberg managed to just get a pass past a DU forward to Jack Downing coming down from the left point, and Downing ripped a snap shot high stick side past Cheverie at 17:54.
Early in the second, Colborne got in on a partial breakaway and looked to have Madore beat, but he hesitated and the puck rolled right off his stick right before he plowed over Madore in the crease.
Vermont made it 3-1 at the 5:40 mark of the second when Josh Burrows sent a harmless-looking wrist shot in from the point that eluded Cheverie.
“I think he would agree that the third one was real soft,” said Gwozdecky of Cheverie’s play in net. “I will define this as opening night jitters.”
DU started to generate pressure midway through the period, and freshman defenseman Matt Donovan notched his first collegiate goal, unassisted, when he ripped a slap shot past Madore glove side at 12:55.
On the next shift, the Pioneers had several good chances to tie it up, particularly on a tip-in try by Brian Gifford, but Madore made the stop.
“Rob certainly played very well for us,” said Catamounts’ coach Kevin Sneddon. “You can’t fault him on any of the goals.”
A bad DU change however, led to a Vermont two-on-one, and Stacey ripped a snap shot from the right circle past Cheverie short side at 16:41.
“I think we definitely left our goalie out to dry,” said Pioneers’ defenseman Patrick Wiercioch. “You could tell they were disciplined within their own systems, and that frustrated us. I think we were getting too cute, especially on the power play.”
At 17:51, Irwin was called for a five-minute major for checking from behind; he also received a game misconduct. Drew Shore had a chance with a quick wrist shot that Madore gloved, and Colborne was robbed on a point blank chance from the slot as time expired in the period.
“I think the big turning point obviously was the five-minute major,” said Sneddon. “We killed the first half really well, but they came out and got some offense going. I thought as the third period went on, they got better, and we kind of looked tired.”
DU didn’t wait long to capitalize. Just 28 seconds into the third period, Wiercioch, standing in the left corner behind the goal line, saw that Madore had moved out a little into his crease and banked the puck in off the back of his leg.
“I saw Madore fall down, so as soon as the puck came back to me, I thought if I got it there it would go in or lay there for Colborne’s hands,” said Wiercioch. “I think more importantly than scoring a goal on that penalty was to take momentum away from it.”
“That goal was huge,” said Colborne. “We came in and really needed it. That power play was our chance to get back in the game.”
Despite good puck movement, the Pioneers weren’t able to get another goal on the rest of the power play.
“I wasn’t really happy with the way we started on the special teams,” said Gwozdecky. “I thought we had a couple power play chances early where we just didn’t get much done. We were throwing it away, taking chances with it. I think some of the adjustments we had to make on the fly, we didn’t make very well.”
However, at 8:22, with Kyle Medvec in the box for holding the stick, Colborne, who had been banging on the door all game, finally capitalized. Rhett Rakhshani, standing in the left corner, fed a pass to Colborne in the slot, and he slid it past Madore’s outstretched leg to tie the game at four.
“That was a great play by Rhett,” said Colborne. “He has a way of finding me in the slot, and I just tapped her in. He (Madore) had my number for the first two periods.”
Colborne gave Denver their first lead of the night at 17:59 of the third. Off a faceoff to the left of Madore, the puck came to Cody Brookwell at the right point, and he slid a pass to Colborne in the right faceoff circle. Colborne took one step to his left and ripped a snap shot top shelf past Madore for his second of the game.
“I thought Joe was good in the third period when we needed him,” said Gwozdecky. “Joe and Rhett Rakhshani were two guys I talked to after the second period at the intermission saying, ‘You need to be better; you guys need to be better. You need to score; you’re getting chances to score, but you’re not making strong plays.’ I thought both guys responded. I thought they had better efforts, better execution, in the third period, and obviously Joe scored two big goals for us.”
“It was disappointing for us,” said Sneddon. “Usually we’re good with the lead going into the third period. Lessons to be learned in the young season. We looked fatigued. It was a pretty good college game, certainly a lot of offense. Both teams executed when they had chances. We just let it slip through our hands in the third period.”
“We have a lot of firepower, so if we come and put the work in, we’ll be pretty hard to beat,” said Colborne.