DENVER — In a game featuring the first and last place teams in the WCHA, one would expect the first place team to win.
In Friday night’s game, the first place University of Denver did win, beating Michigan Tech, 5-2. However, it was a harder-earned win for the Pioneers than one might initially think.
“These guys really care, they really, really care,” said DU coach George Gwozdecky. “They are playing so hard it doesn’t matter what position [they are] in the league.
“The Huskies of Michigan Tech played very strong tonight. They played really well.”
The Pioneers got on the board first, 82 seconds into the first period. Cody Brookwell took a pass from Rhett Rakhshani and fired a blast from the right point that went five-hole past MTU goaltender Kevin Genoe.
For the rest of the period, however, it was all MTU, as the Huskies went on the offensive. With about eight minutes remaining in the frame, Malcolm Gwilliam and Brett Olson connected on a two-on-one to tie the game at one. Gwilliam made a nifty pass in between his legs to Olson, who passed it back to Gwilliam, who put the puck five-hole past Pioneers’ goaltender Marc Cheverie (30 saves).
The goal also came four seconds after MTU’s Ryan Bunger went down after cranking his knee off a goalpost; Bunger left the ice to go to the locker room, though he did return later in the game.
“That’s a team that cares an awful lot about competing hard and that’s a real credit to their coaching staff and their players, because they gave us all we wanted and more in the first period,” said Gwozdecky.
“I was happy with the way we played,” said his MTU counterpart, Jamie Russell. “I was a little concerned going into the game, coming off an off week, traveling with a flight [about] how our first period was going to be. I thought we moved our feet, we worked hard, we skated [and] we got some good pucks on net.”
The score remained tied until late in the second period, when DU’s Tyler Ruegsegger made it a 2-1 game with an individual effort at the three-minute mark. Ruegsegger broke into the Huskies’ zone, stickhandled around a Tech defenseman, and went top shelf on Genoe (37 saves).
In the third period, Denver’s third line took over, starting just over six minutes in, as the Pioneers made it a 3-1 game. Brandon Vossberg won a puck battle along the near boards and dished the puck to Anthony Maiani, who sailed a pass across the low slot to Kyle Ostrow, who tapped it in behind Genoe.
“We made a couple mistakes on backchecking against that team; they’re number two in the country for a reason,” said Russell. “They’re not going to miss and they get a two-on-one chance, they beat a defenseman on the rush, they’re going to finish, and they did.”
Just 1:25 later, the Huskies narrowed the Pioneers’ lead back to one thanks to a short-handed goal by Brett Olson. Olson took a shot on Cheverie, picked up his own rebound on the opposite side of the crease and backhanded it blindly past Cheverie to make it 3-2.
However, DU regained its two-goal lead almost two minutes later when Maiani threw a Vossberg rebound on net that banked off the right post and in.
The Huskies had a chance on the doorstep with five-and-half to play to narrow the lead back down with the puck rolling along the goal line, but the Denver defense was able to clear the puck.
Denver’s third line got one more goal though, this time from Vossberg. Vossberg took a pass from Ostrow, cut in front of Genoe and backhanded a shot high with 2:31 remaining.
“To be a contender, to be a real good team, you need to have more than one line functioning, more than one line that’s a threat,” said Gwozdecky. “Tonight, obviously, we had a different line that was a threat and obviously they carried the team for us.
The two teams face off again Saturday night at Magness Arena. The puck drops at 7:07 MT.