DULUTH, Minn. — One goal victories have pushed Denver and Minnesota Duluth to national rankings and into the upper echelon of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association this season.
Coming into a weekend series at the DECC, first place Denver and third place UMD were 6-1 in games decided by one goal.
The second ranked Pioneers added to that total Friday night with a 3-2 victory over No. 12 UMD before a crowd of 4,437.
Denver never trailed in strengthening its grip on first place. UMD has made a habit of making comebacks, earning victories in three of the last four games.
But the Bulldogs squandered a two-man power-play advantage in the third period for 78 seconds and couldnt convert after goalie Brady Hjelle was pulled for an extra attacker with 88 seconds remaining.
Denver dictated play a little too much and for a lot of the game they were better, said UMD defenseman Mike Montgomery, who had two assists. It was a familiar situation for us, to be behind, but wed rather have a lead. There were just too many missed opportunities — on both sides.
After a scoreless first period, the Pioneers got goals from first-line center Jesse Martin and left winger Joe Colborne (on a power play) in the second period. That period has been rough for the Bulldogs this season.
UMD forged a 1-1 tie on a Drew Akins power play goal in the second period, but could never get the lead. UMD led in final shots on goal 30-24, but WCHA save percentage leader Marc Cheverie was superb, especially in the games final seven minutes as the 6-foot-3 goalies aggressive play was critical.
Winning one goal games is a matter of finishing the game — just everyone playing defense and staying strong until the end, said Denver winger Anthony Maiani, who had two helpers. Duluths a good team and they did come back and those final few minutes were a battle. Our defense, led by our goalie, held on.
The loss was the first at home for UMD sophomore Hjelle, who came into the series with a 7-0 career mark at the DECC.
Kyle Ostrow had a third period power-play goal for a 3-1 Denver lead before Mike Connolly cut that to 3-2 with 9:35 to play from close in at the right edge of the net. With 6:25 remaining, UMD went on a power play and with 5:43 left it went to 5-on-3. The Bulldogs took a timeout with 23 seconds left in the two-man advantage, but were stymied.
We have to remedy not playing well in the second period and you have to score 5-on-3, said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. Cheverie made big saves at big times, and Denver is so good that you have to take care of the puck and we didnt always do that.
The Pioneers (11-4-2 overall, 9-2-2 in the WCHA) hit a couple of pipes in the game before UMD threw everything it had in the closing seconds, outshooting Denver 14-7 in the final period.
The loss dropped UMD (10-6-1, 7-5-1) to fifth in the WCHA, two points behind St. Cloud State and Wisconsin, and one point ahead of North Dakota.
Those were two pretty evenly-matched teams and our power play was just able to cash in one more time that theirs, said Denver coach George Gwozdecky. It makes it easier if you score first and continue to hold the lead.