DENVER — In their first home game in a month, the No. 2 University of Denver looked happy to be back in familiar territory. The Pioneers dismantled non-conference opponent Mercyhurst College, 4-1, Friday night at Magness Arena.
“We knew coming in that Denver was a great hockey team and they certainly didn’t disappoint us,” said Lakers’ coach Rick Gotkin. “Whenever we lose, it’s disappointing, but I don’t know if we’re shocked that we didn’t win.”
After a few minutes of feeling each other out, the Pioneers took control of the game, getting the first good chance and an almost-goal 6:18 into the game. Tyler Ruegsegger took a shot from the right dot, gathered his own rebound and fired it back on Lakers’ goaltender Ryan Zapolski, with players from both sides crashing the crease. Rhett Rakhshani tried to poke the puck in, but a Mercyhurst defender cleared it to the right of the net directly to DU’s Matt Donovan, who fired it past a still out of position Zapolski. However, the goal was waived off due to goaltender interference.
Exactly two minutes later, however, Denver got on the board for good with a power-play goal. Anthony Maiani fired a pass across the top of the slot to Chris Knowlton, who wristed it high past Zapolski (44 saves).
With 2:01 remaining in the first period, Luke Salazar put the Pioneers up 2-0 on a nearly identical play to their first goal, with the Maiani pass and resulting goal coming even strength instead.
DU took a 3-0 lead at the 11:01 mark of the second period when Maiani finally got a goal of his own. Maiani walked his way out of traffic in front of the net and put a floater on net that beat Zapolski stick side.
The Lakers started to pour on the pressure in the third, gaining some great chances, such as an early goalmouth flurry, and hit a few goalposts.
“Third period, from the very first shift, we were not very good and Mercyhurst cranked up the pressure on us, forechecked us hard and we had a tough time dealing with it,” said DU coach George Gwozdecky.
The pressure finally paid off for Mercyhurst with a four-on-four goal with 4:51 remaining when Grant Blakely tipped a Derek Elliott shot past Pioneers’ goaltender Adam Murray (32 saves) while crashing the net, spoiling the freshman’s bid for his first collegiate shutout.
“I don’t think we’ve scored here in three years, so it was good that we finally scored,” quipped Gotkin.
The Pioneers responded 42 seconds later with their second power-play goal when a streaking Joe Colborne deflected a pass from Rakhshani that rocketed past Zapolski to make it 4-1.
“You’re always happy when you win no matter the situation,” said Gwozdecky. “I thought we played a good first 30 minutes, and then a combination of sloppy play on our part and Mercyhurst cranking it up, but I thought Mercyhurst played very, very well the last 30 minutes and had us scrambling.”
“I thought we played pretty good in the third period,” said Gotkin. “If you take the goal out that Denver scored in the third period, I think we would say we had a really good third period. But you know what? An awful lot has to go right for us to beat Denver, and we knew that, but it’s something we believe will make our team better.”
Both teams continue their non-conference slate tomorrow night south of Denver. The Pioneers head to the Air Force Academy to face the Falcons while the Lakers travel to Colorado Springs for a game with the Tigers. Both games will start just past 7 p.m. MST.