DENVER — One could be forgiven for wondering if the No. 2 Denver Pioneers had eaten their Thanksgiving dinner earlier Saturday and were in a turkey coma. Midway through the second period, in an arena that might as well have been a morgue for all the energy it had, a fan of the Pioneers screamed “Wake up, Denver.”
Denver finally did wake up halfway through the third period, but it was too little, too late, and the St. Cloud State Huskies held on for a gritty 3-2 win in front of 4,747 fans at Magness Arena. Ryan Lasch scored a goal and an assist, Tony Mosey scored two goals, and Dan Dunn made 26 saves in the win.
“I liked us from start to finish tonight,” said Huskies’ coach Bob Motzko. “Something we’ve done every weekend; we’ve found a way to hold serve, and I’m proud of our guys.”
St. Cloud came out with a lot of jump and got on the Pioneers early. After breaking up a Denver offensive chance in their end, the Huskies drove down the ice three-on-two. David Eddy fed a perfect cross ice pass to Lasch in the right circle, and Lasch ripped a shot high stick side past Marc Cheverie at 4:32.
“Our goal coming into this weekend was to get him moving side-to-side,” said Lasch. “Cheverie is one of the best goalies in the league, and the only way to score on him is to get him moving laterally.”
The Huskies built on their lead on their first power play. After Shawn Ostrow was called for holding at 10:10, the Huskies won the ensuing faceoff and worked the puck down to Lasch at the left side of the goal, and he slid a pass through the crease to Mosey at the far post. Mosey one-timed it five-hole at 10:22.
“That’s a huge goal for us,” said Lasch. “I don’t think we scored a power-play goal last night. It was huge on the road, and to get a goal like that jump started us in the first period.”
“This is no slam on any of our opponents, but their forwards played those two games, those four lines of forwards were as good as any set of forwards we’ve played all year long,” said Pioneers’ coach George Gwozdecky. “They are dangerous; they put pressure on us, they’re so quick and nifty with the puck. They made two great plays with the puck to get the lead.”
At the other end of the ice, the Huskies clamped down defensively, clearing rebounds of Denver’s shots from the perimeter and preventing Denver from generating any flow.
“The key for us was our power play; our power play needed to score, and they did,” said Motzko. “We’ve got a very good group of forwards, and we’re catching up with our ‘D’ core getting better.”
Denver’s offensive woes continued in the second period. After two penalty kills, Denver went on a power play. Though they kept the puck in St. Cloud’s zone for almost the full two minutes, they didn’t get many shots, passing around looking for the perfect pretty play. After almost 12 minutes of the period, Denver had only three shots on goal in the second, and 10 for the game.
Denver again started slowly in the third, and after nine minutes had only one shot on net. Their skates looked like they were weighed down in molasses.
However, at 11:15, Tyler Ruegsegger woke the arena up. Jesse Martin carried the puck down the left boards and backhanded a pass to Ruegsegger in the slot, and he backhanded it past Dunn five-hole. After a quick review, the goal stood.
The crowd barely had time to celebrate however, before the Huskies got the two-goal lead back. Two Pioneers’ defenders missed the puck behind the net, and Travis Novak picked it up and threw it to Mosey in the slot. Mosey was all alone,. and he one-timed the pass into the net at 11:55.
“We got that third period goal, and that’s a huge booster for our team,” said Lasch. “It gave us some insurance.”
Denver was assessed a bench minor on the play, after Gwozdecky argued with the referee. Denver assistant coach Derek Lalonde had argued that there was a penalty in the Pioneers’ zone.
“Derek was upset about a non-call right before the goal, so the official came over and was yelling at Derek, so that’s when I stepped in, to try to help Derek, and the official was still pretty emotional and rang us up,” said Gwozdecky.
The Pioneers killed off the penalty, and then played with renewed urgency, forcing Dunn to make several spectacular saves, including stopping Rhett Rakhshani on a breakaway.
“Goalie’s got to make some saves, and their guy did too,” said Motzko. “Last night he made the key save in the third period, and we had it come down tonight for us, so it was huge.”
At 17:10, Mosey was whistled for hooking, and Gwozdecky pulled Cheverie to give the Pioneers a six-on-four power play. They quickly converted, with Rakhshani feeding a perfect pass to Ruegsegger coming down from the right point. Ruegsegger rifled it glove side at 17:30, pulling the Pioneers within one.
In the last minute, with Cheverie pulled again, Denver had several good chances to tie it. Anthony Maiani just fired a shot wide of the net with less than 10 seconds left, and St. Cloud pulled out the win.
“The sense of urgency we played with during those phases of the game showed me the kind of team we’re capable of and the kind of things we’re capable of doing,” said Gwozdecky. “The challenge we have is coming out on a Saturday night and doing that right off the bat. Parts of that game I was very disappointed in, and parts of that game I said, ‘Boy, we can be really good when we put our minds to it.’”