DENVER — Despite being outshot 36-22, the Lethbridge Horns beat the No. 11 Denver Pioneers 5-2 in an exhibition game at Magness Arena Sunday night. It was the first time a Denver team lost a pre-season game to a Canadian squad since 1999, when they lost to Manitoba.
“Completely different game; we had energy and we were physical and moved our feet, but we just worked,” said Lethbridge coach Greg Gatto. “Last night we just didn’t work. Whether we had a long trip or what, that wasn’t our game. The smaller rink helps too; we’re a physical team.”
“One of the reasons we play two exhibition games is to experience two back-to-back games like we do during the season, and I think we learned a very valuable lesson tonight that if you’re not ready to play, you are going to misfire,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “When you look at some of the opportunities we gave them in the first period, that was the game in a nutshell. I thought it was a very good opportunity for us to learn about how important it is to park the previous night and get ready to compete as hard as you can the next night.”
Lethbridge struck first at 5:27 when Tyler Melancon picked up a rebound of a Dustin Moore shot to the left of Pioneers goalie Sam Brittain and fired it top corner.
The Pioneers evened it at 8:01 on a power play when Anthony Maiani fed a cross-crease pass to Beau Bennett on the left post, who tapped it into the open net. Buoyed by the goal, the Pioneers put on pressure, but were unable to get the lead, despite outshooting the Horns 11-6 on the period.
“We generated a lot of shots, but you look at those, and we weren’t sharp,” said Gwozdecky. “We missed a lot of opportunities, we missed a lot of shots. It’s those kind of things that when you aren’t ready to go, things aren’t going to work. Probably that was the biggest disappointment for me.”
Lethbridge however, struck twice more before period’s end. Nick Hotson picked up a rebound of a shot from the left point by Mason Conway that popped up and behind Brittain and poked it into the open net. Moore built the lead to two at 16:50 when he exited the penalty box and skated the puck down the right side, firing a shot from the right faceoff dot that beat Brittain high glove side.
DU again got the better of the offensive play in the second, but couldn’t pull closer. Maiani pulled the Pioneers within one at 6:50 when he picked up the puck off a draw in the left circle and beat Reese Goodard five-hole.
However, the Horns got that goal back at 14:16 when Hotson got his second of the game. He broke down the left side two-on-one with Winston Daychief, who lifted a perfect pass to Hotson near the crease. Hotson backhanded a shot on Brittain that the goalie bobbled, and Hotson knocked the rebound in.
“‘Hotsie,’ he played a year and sat out last year, and ‘Moorsie’ was our second leading scorer last year, so we always expect big things,” said Gatto. “Last night they struggled a little bit so we knew they were going to come back. Moorsie doesn’t have two bad games in a row.”
In the third, Goodard came up with some big stops, especially when Denver had Lethbridge pinned in their own end for large stretches. Goodard robbed Maiani from the right side of the crease on a redirect of a Kyle Ostrow pass at 7:10.
“We have a lot of depth right now, but we have a lot of freshman and we lost a lot of our go-to guys,” said Ostrow. “I think we just have to get used to each other and try and make some chemistry and work very hard. I think if we work hard, our talent will come into play.”
“He was outstanding, and he’s not even our top guy; Scotty Bowles hurt his ankle last night,” said Gatto. “He was thrown into the fire, but he’s won a championship before and he played outstanding.”
While on a power play, Hotson, stationed at the right post got the hat trick when he was fed a pass from Moore behind the net and beat Brittain short side with a quick snap shot.
“We’ve got a darn good schedule and we’re going to be competing against a lot of good teams,” said Gwozdecky. “Our focus throughout practice will be all around Vermont and what we need to do Friday night and Saturday night. Six periods coming up, and we’ve got to win them all.”