DENVER — Yankees-Red Sox. Giants-Cowboys. Bruins-Canadiens. Celtics-Lakers. Add the No. 3 Denver Pioneers and No. 2 North Dakota Fighting Sioux hockey teams to the list of bitter rivals who really seem to dislike each other.
In a tightly called game marred by 20 penalties, a game that had a little bit of everything, including a disallowed tying goal in the waning seconds of the game, the Pioneers topped the Fighting Sioux, 3-2, sweeping the weekend series before 6,030 fans at Magness Arena. Every goal was scored on the power play,
Sophomore Joe Colborne, who was awarded the first star of the game and his first ever hard hat in the locker room, scored two goals and an assist in the win. Marc Cheverie made 24 saves.
“Both teams are vying for going to the halfway point being one of the top teams in the conference, so the four points were very important,” said Pioneers’ coach George Gwozdecky. “We’re happy and pleased to get all four. It was very close. I think the officiating was consistently tight all night, and I think we adjusted to that and got better at that as the game wore on.”
Special teams play dictated the first period. With Jesse Martin already in the box, John Lee took a bad unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for hitting after the whistle, giving the Sioux 1:09 of five-on-three advantage. With only eight seconds left on Martin’s penalty, Danny Kristo took a shot from the blue line that beat a screened Marc Cheverie top corner stick side at 3:23.
After killing off the rest of Lee’s penalty, the Pioneers started to generate opportunities, and Tyler Ruegsegger had a golden chance go off the right post and back out. On two consecutive power plays, Eidsness either made the save or the Pioneers shot high and wide. Eidsness robbed Drew Shore on a shot from the left circle with his glove, and Rhett Rakhshani shot a laser just high and wide from the left circle.
Late in the period, John Ryder got called for roughing, and the Sioux power play again capitalized. This time, the Sioux cycled the puck and got Chris VandeVelde free down low in the right slot, and he lifted a shot high glove side past Cheverie at 17:26.
Just as the Sioux had used their power play to build the lead, the Pioneers used theirs in the second period to take the lead on a string of Sioux penalties. After offsetting tripping minors to Rakhshani and Derrick LaPoint 20 seconds in the period, the Sioux took five consecutive minors before Martin got called for hooking, and then Brett Hextall took an unsportsmanlike call at the end of the period.
First, they took advantage of carry-over time on a first period call on Andrew MacWilliam. With 11 seconds left in MacWilliam’s penalty, Kyle Ostrow got the puck behind the goal line in the right corner and fed a perfect pass to Colborne, who was alone in the slot. Colborne one-timed Ostrow’s pass top shelf stick side at 1:09.
“I guess for a six-five guy, I’m pretty sneaky,” laughed Colborne. “We came in and made a few adjustments. The coaches were looking at video and noticed a few weaknesses. We knew they were starting to pressure more up top and so I started dropping off more to the side and they had to start collapsing down low, so that opened up our D-men for shots from the point. I have to credit Drew Shore and Kyle Ostrow for doing all the work on that goal.”
Colborne got his second consecutive power-play goal to tie the game at 5:22. Patrick Wiercioch fired a slap shot from the left point that deflected off Colborne’s pad at the left side of the crease past Eidsness.
“One of the changes we made from last night was bringing Patrick Wiercioch back strictly for the power play,” said Gwozdecky. “I think he was a big difference. Some of the things we didn’t do a very good job of last night on the power play, as far as puck rotation, was much better tonight and it opened up a couple guys on the back side like Rakhshani and Ostrow that they had to honor, which opened up Colborne.”
The Pioneers got their third consecutive power-play goal in brilliant fashion. With Brad Malone in the box for slashing, the Pioneers set up well and controlled play, keeping the puck in the Sioux zone for almost two minutes. With 15 seconds left on the power play, Colborne slid a pass across the crease to Ostrow at the right side of the crease, and Ostrow took his time roofing a shot past a diving Eidsness at 8:33.
“It’s amazing what scoring will do,” said Gwozdecky. “You can be feeling just average and all of a sudden you score a goal and it changes your whole outlook. You have a little bit more zip in your step and you’re a little more confident in your passing and shooting. When we got two, we knew we were going to get three. It’s the same group, same pattern, but because they’re scoring, all of a sudden they look like the Soviets of 1972 or the Oilers of 1984. It’s remarkable how that happens.”
Though Denver got three more power plays in the period, they were unable to build on their lead. The Sioux, in turn, had a late power play chance, but the Pioneers were able to kill it off.
“Nothing surprises me,” said a sedate Sioux coach Dave Hakstol, who had no comment about the officiating after the game. “I’m going to sit back and take a look. I thought we took two or three poor penalties which lacked composure. I think the whole middle 20 minutes was the turning point of the game.”
The third period was more clean, though both teams got their chances on the power play. At 17:43 of the period, with Denver in the late stages of a power play, Colborne got called for hooking and the Sioux went to work.
With a little over a minute left in the game, Hakstol pulled Eidsness to get a six-on-four advantage, and during a wild scramble in front at 19:16, the puck went in the net and a goal was credited to Malone. However, after a video review, the goal was waved off, as Malone clearly kicked it in.
Colborne had been watching the replay in the box, and was relieved.
“I felt kind of a little bit to blame for that last goal, so when I saw that kicking motion, it made me feel great,” said Colborne. “That last minute stand by “Chev” and the guys was huge.”
“I knew right away,” said Cheverie of the disallowed goal. “He shot it off my shoulder and I didn’t know where it was and it dropped down from my stomach and he immediately kicked it in. I knew there was no way they could count it, but stranger things have happened, and I’ve seen those count before, so I was a little worried when the refs were looking at it.”
“Kyle Ostrow, who was on the ice for their disallowed goal, came right over to the bench and he was doing the kicking motion and says, ‘Coach, it’s no goal; they kicked it in,’ and he was so confident,” said Gwozdecky.
With the goal waved off however, Martin’s cross-checking penalty during the play went into effect, giving the Sioux a six-on-three advantage for most of the rest of the game. However, the Pioneers aggressively blocked shots and got the puck out of the zone. preserving the win.
“I think the biggest thing that this team is starting to slowly understand and develop is that idea of the chemistry of playing together and playing within your role, and being proud of your role,” said Gwozdecky. “I think you’re starting to see the evolution of this team in being able to check their egos at the door and be proud of the role they play, and that’s a real positive.”