DENVER — In front of 5,311 fans on a tricky, pranks-filled Halloween night, the No. 2 Denver Pioneers battled to a 4-4 tie with the Minnesota State Mankato Mavericks.
“It’s an important point for us,” said Pioneers’ coach George Gwozdecky. “There’s always that tendency to press too hard and try to get that extra point. Other than the penalty kill in the overtime, I thought we played smart. Overall, we will take the win and the tie this series.”
Once again, the Mavericks struck first. Denver’s John Lee knocked the puck down at his blue line and tried to clear it, but Andrew Sackrison intercepted it and skated down along the left boards. He fired a nearly horizontal shot at the goal line that hit Pioneers’ goalie Adam Murray and rebounded out in the slot, where Joe Schiller stepped into it and one-timed a slap shot low stick side that beat a screened Murray at 5:26.
“I thought both teams played hard, and it was a good weekend of college hockey,” said Mavericks’ coach Troy Jutting. “I thought the kids responded real well and the effort was good.”
The Mavericks built on their lead during a power play. The Pioneers’ Matt Donovan picked up the puck on the right boards and had a clearing chance, but the puck hit teammate Jesse Martin’s skate and came to Tyler Pitlick on the blue line. He skated to his right and beat Murray with a shot high stick side.
“I just shot the puck and was really trying to get it on net and it went in,” said Pitlick.
However, Denver’s power play got them back in the game. As a penalty to the Mavericks’ Tyler Elbrecht expired, William Wrenn fed a cross-ice pass to Drew Shore standing at the left faceoff dot, and his quick wrist show beat Kevin Murdock inside the left post at 14:42.
“We definitely didn’t get off to the start we wanted, being down a couple of goals, and it was a nice pass by Wrenn,” said Shore. “I saw net there.”
Buoyed by the goal, Denver’s fourth line buzzed the Mavericks’ zone, and Brian Gifford drew a penalty as he tried to backhand a rebound in from the crease.
On the ensuing power play, Rhett Rakhshani fired a harmless looking wrist shot from the left circle, but the rebound came out to Tyler Ruegsegger on the left post, and he stuffed it past Murdock’s skate at 15:32.
The Pioneers had a golden chance to take the lead late when they got nearly two minutes of five-on-three power play, but they couldn’t find the extra skater back door on several different passes.
“That was disappointing,” said Gwozdecky. “We really did not run that very well. We hung onto the puck too long, rather than moving it, and as a result not much happened. With a lot of good momentum going our way late in that first period, you’ve got to score. We just didn’t execute very well.”
“I thought it was huge, especially after we had given up a two-goal lead, to kill that off and not go into the locker room behind after you went up 2-0 was huge for us,” said Jutting.
At the first period intermission, during the celebration of the Denver players’ parents, who escorted their sons out to the ice, an emotional moment came when injured goalie Marc Cheverie came out on the red carpet on crutches to a roar from the crowd. Cheverie will be out several weeks after suffering a skate cut on his left calf during Friday’s game.
Murray made a big stop early in the second to keep the score tied when he got his right pad down on a point blank shot from the crease by Kael Mouillierat.
“I think he was very nervous in the first period,” said Gwozdecky of Murray. “Coach Derek Lalonde talked to him at the intermission and I thought he really settled down after that and played pretty well.”
After weathering a Mavericks’ power play, the Pioneers grabbed the lead when Murdock gave up three consecutive rebounds in the slot. Anthony Maiani finally banked it in off Murdock’s left pad at 7:24.
However, the Mavericks started to carry the play after that. Zach Harrison had a golden chance when the rebound rolled to him with an open net, but he couldn’t control it.
With Joe Colborne in the box already, John Lee got called for tripping at 14:52, giving the Mavericks 33 seconds of five-on-three power play. They quickly capitalized, beautifully cycling the puck from the points to Harrison at the left side of the crease. Harrison fed the puck quickly to a wide-open Pitlick at the far right post, and he tapped the puck into the open net at 15:04.
“We just wanted to move the puck around fast and get the other team out of position and shoot the puck as much as possible,” said Pitlick. “We just moved it all the way around and it went down to ‘Harry’ and he passed it over and I pretty much had an open net. Pretty easy I guess.”
The Mavericks still had 1:48 of power play left after quickly converting, but Denver regrouped and killed the rest of the penalty.
“He’s still 17 years old; he’s a hell of a player,” said Jutting of Pitlick.
The start of the third period was delayed when the fire alarm went off and a fire was reported on the first floor of the arena. While it was sorted out, the players skated around the ice in their zone to stay loose and the Denver student section chanted “We’re on fire!”
“Playing Minnesota State, every time we play them something unique and different happens,” said Gwozdecky. “Obviously last night the unfortunate injury to Marc, but tonight, I’ve never, ever, ever, exeperienced a fire alarm, false or not false, during a game. Not only is the fire alarm going off, but the alarm shuts down any type of public address that can be made other than the recording. Again, one of those weird things that seems to happen a lot any time these two teams play each other.”
A costly misread by Wrenn however, who backed off the puck in the offensive zone and let Harrison get a burst of speed through the neutral zone, led to Wrenn taking a hooking penalty when Harrison split the ‘D’ and broke in on a semi-breakaway. On the ensuing power play, Mouillierat cut into the crease and tipped a Ben Yourds’ shot five-hole past Murray at 10:11 to give the Mavericks the 4-3 lead.
“Our penalty killing, with the style we use, especially when the puck is along the wall in our zone, we really flood to one side, and if we lose the puck battle, which we did tonight a number of times on the penalty kill, it really exposes our back side, our flank, and they scored two goals directly off that, and we need to do a better job,” said Gwozdecky. “I was disappointed in some of those areas.”
However, the Pioneers got the goal back at 14:57 when Kyle Ostrow picked up a bouncing rebound at the left side of the crease and knocked it past Murdock short side.
“That was pretty disappointing,” said Pitlick. “It was kind of one of those goals where the puck popped up and no one knew where it was and one guy saw it and put it in.”
Murdock made a couple of big stops late to send the game into OT, first on a blast by Wiercioch from the left point, and then a left pad save on a spinning wrist shot by Ruegsegger as the horn sounded.
Early in the overtime, the Mavericks got a golden chance when Shawn Ostrow got called for hooking Mouillierat at :32 as Mouillierat reached for a loose puck in the crease. The Mavericks had several good chances, including a wild scramble for a loose puck in the slot when Murray lost his stick, but were unable to convert.
“We didn’t have too many opportunities; I think we might have been worn down a little bit working hard after two games,” said Pitlick.
The Pioneers got their own chance at 3:37 of the extra session when the Mavericks’ Justin Jokinen skated down the right side boards, cut hard to the net, and ran over Murray in his crease, shaking him up on the play.
“After ‘Chevy’ went down last night, it definitely wasn’t good to see, but luckily he was all right,” said Shore.
However, despite some good puck movement, the Pioneers were unable to get the puck past the aggressive shot blocking of the Mavericks.
“We have to do a better job,” said Gwozdecky. “You can see Joe Colborne is still not comfortable with the injuries he’s had; he wasn’t the same player he was before he got hurt, but we will certainly take the three points. We’re glad Adam wasn’t hurt other than shaken up. We had a chance to win.”