DENVER — In their second high-scoring, back-and-forth game of the weekend, the University of Vermont Catamounts earned a 6-4 victory over the University of Denver Pioneers Saturday night, also earning the weekend split.
“I thought it was just a great college hockey game; it had a little bit of everything in there,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “It’s a great win for us, especially coming off of last night where our team felt pretty bad about themselves.”
The Pioneers started off the game with a bang and a quick rush right off the opening faceoff and continued with the first goal of the game.
Just after an early power play expired, Tyler Ruegsegger took a tough-angle shot to Vermont goaltender Rob Madore’s left, drawing him out of the crease. Ruegsegger then took his rebound, walked in front and shot the puck into a virtually empty net just under six minutes in to the first period.
Vermont tied it 91 seconds later when Brayden Irwin sniped a snap shot from the left face-off dot that beat freshman Pioneers’ netminder Adam Murray under his left shoulder.
Ruegsegger scored his second of the night to make it a 2-1 game at 14:11 of the first period. Ruegsegger took a pass from Rhett Rakhshani, dished it to Jesse Martin on the right post who in turn tossed it back to Ruegsegger, who one-timed it past Madore (30 saves).
“He got banged around pretty good tonight, but he was able to [get his two goals] tonight,” said DU coach George Gwozdecky.
However, the teams went into the first intermission tied at two goals apiece after Vermont knotted it up on a power-play goal with 2:11 left to play in the frame when Jack Downing’s shot from the point hit a DU player and deflected up in the net over Murray’s glove (24 saves).
Vermont was awarded a penalty shot 5:31 into the second period when Colin Vock was hooked driving the DU net. Though Murray was also roughed up on the same play, getting his helmet elbowed off and being knocked over in the process, he stayed in the game to face the shot. Vock scored on his opportunity to give the Catamounts a 3-2 lead, beating Murray low glove side.
“It was big,” said Sneddon of the penalty shot. “Those things can go either way. I think it was important we got the finish there.”
A few minutes later, the fans received some more excitement when Ruegsegger was taken down on a clean hit going into the zone, causing his stick to almost vault into the stands.
The momentum shifts ended up in the Pioneers’ favor when they scored to make it a 3-3 contest. Rakhshani shrugged off a Vermont defender to zip a pass to Martin in the corner, who sniped a shot under Madore’s left shoulder 11:57 of the second period.
Vermont regained their lead with a little over four minutes remaining in the middle frame. About 15 seconds after Brian Roloff cranked a shot off the left post short-handed, the Catamounts’ Irwin came back down the ice full strength, beat the defenseman, cut in and beat Murray stick side to make it 4-3.
“[Vermont] was an experienced, probably in some ways stronger, physical team that really exposed our inexperience of our defensive corps,” said Gwozdecky. “Our defensive corps tonight really, really struggled starting with the first goal. In the second period alone, we gave up five two-on-ones and I’m just standing behind the bench wondering why, chuckling to myself.”
The Catamounts took the first two-goal lead of the game 2:02 into the third period. Ben Albertson carried the puck into the Denver zone, took a long shot on Murray and saw his rebound knocked in by a crashing Jonathan Higgins.
“That was big, when they scored to make it a one-goal game, I think again, lesson learned from last night,” said Sneddon. “We just kind of took a deep breath and I think a lot of our veteran players were able to settle our younger guys down and just got back down to the basics.”
However, the Pioneers made it 5-4 when Shawn Ostrow scored his first career goal when a pass from the top of the right circle intended for Rakhshani hit a Vermont defender’s skate and redirected in past Madore at the 14:46 mark of the third.
Vermont regained their two goal lead a few minutes later when Roloff passed to himself around a DU defender, walked in front of the net and beat a sprawling Murray to make it 6-4.
Gwozdecky pulled Murray with 1:33 left to try to even up the score, with the gamble almost working when Patrick Wiercioch hit a post with about four seconds left, but the score wouldn’t change anymore.
“I thought we played a great third period,” said Sneddon. “I was really pleased with the fact that we learned from last night.”
“I thought they played a very smart game and certainly, I’m glad we were able to schedule them,” said Gwozdecky. “At this time of year, it really gives you a good darn insight to not only what you’re good at, but more importantly, what your deficiencies are, and our deficiencies were exposed pretty good, especially tonight.”