MINNEAPOLIS — Three games. Two shutouts. For a team known more for scoring goals than stopping them, it’s a troubling statistic. Yet after getting blanked once again, this time by the fourth ranked Pioneers at home in Mariucci Arena, the No. 11 Gophers are already sputtering.
“Its hard to win if you don’t score,” observed Minnesota coach Don Lucia.
Denver goalie Marc Cheverie earned his second shutout in three games this young season.
“Our team D stepped up. Every game they have gotten better,” commented Cheverie. “When they got [pucks] through there was not traffic out front.”
The offensive heroes for the Pioneers were their two captains Rhett Rakhshani and Tyler Ruegsegger. Despite numerous members of Denver’s staff and team being affected by illness — including Rakhshani and head coach George Gwozdecky — their team leaders stepped up big. Rakhshani netted two goals and had a third called back while Ruegsegger had a goal and assist.
“I am feeling better now. Just a small cold,” remarked Rakhshani.
Minnesota had its chances throughout the game but failed to put the puck past Cheverie.
“We had chances tonight, but far too often missed the net,” added Don Lucia.
When they did put the puck on net, they hit the goaltender. Nowhere was this more evident than when Mike Hoeffel’s third period shot clanged off of Cheveries mask.
The second period started with a rash of penalties. Denver went on a 4-on-3 power play at 1:29 when Fairchild took a tripping penalty. With the passing lanes wider, DU opened up the ice and was rewarded with a bevy of scoring chances.
Seven seconds after the power play expired (and before Fairchild could get back into the heart of the play) Denver struck first. The goal was reviewed to see whether Kevin Wehrs was able to stop the puck before it crossed the line. The puck was clearly in and the goal stood.
Matt Donovan took a shot from the point that Tyler Ruegsegger redirected the puck off and over the pads of Kangas. The fluttering puck barely crossed the line before Wehrs cleared it out of the goal.
“I think that one went of Ruegseggers rear end,” said Don Lucia of the deflection.
The next three power-play chances went to Minnesota. But the Gophers were unable to capitalize with the extra skater and the Pioneers gathered momentum.
Minnesota even survived a scare on a shorthanded rush by Rhett Rakhshani, who took the shot and Kangas made the save and controlled the puck. The whistle did not blow and Rhett skated into Kangas; the puck came free and went in the net. The linesman called it a goal but the goal light never went on.
“I was tempted to ask why [the goal did not count] but decided it would not do any good,” remarked Rakhshani on the goal being reversed.
The penalty kills gave momentum to the Pioneers. Denver applied immediate pressure after the second kill and Rakhshani scored again, this time sans controversy. Fresh from the sin bin, he one timed a pass from linemate Tyler Ruegsegger. Netminder Alex Kangas got a piece of the puck but not enough and the Pioneers were up 2-0.
Despite having to kill three minor penalties, the clear edge in quality scoring chances and play went to Denver. The Pioneers outshot Minnesota 14-9 in the second.
Rakhshani finished the scoring off with an empty net goal with two seconds left.
The first period was the early stages of a chess match. Both teams failed to generate quality scoring chances. Shots were mostly from the perimeter. No close rebounds. Only one power play for Denver. The slight edge in play went to Minnesota.
The first serious scoring chance came six minutes into the game when Mike Carman was stonewalled by Cheverie on a one timer from eight feet out.
Momentum swung to Minnesota after killing an offensive zone hooking penalty by Ryan Flynn at 7:04. The Gophers allowed only one shot on the power play and tallied four shots of their own in the first minute after their kill. The shots were mostly from the perimeter where Cheverie was able to see the puck the whole way and control the rebounds.
Minnesota held the territorial advantage but could not get the puck inside with traffic.
“Getting three goals in three games is not exactly Gopher hockey,” commented Tony Lucia on the Gophers lack of scoring early this season. “We are getting the puck through, but we are not getting that stick on the puck.”
The same two teams faceoff Saturday night.