In front of a capacity crowd of 6,033 at Magness Arena, the No. 13 Denver Pioneers won an emotional game over archrival Colorado College 4-1. Freshman goaltender Sam Brittain made 33 saves, tying his career high, and junior forward Luke Salazar scored a goal and an assist in the win.
“You’ve got to thank our ‘D,’” said Brittain. “They’re playing phenomenal, making sure I get a lot of shots from the perimeter and clearing the rebound. We want to make sure we bring our best every night and get that Gold Pan trophy again.”
A loud cheer, as well as tapping sticks on the ice from both teams, greeted the announcement of Jesse Martin’s name before the game. Martin suffered three fractures of his C2 vertebrae on October 30 in a game against North Dakota. Before the national anthem was played, the enthusiastic Denver student section chanted “Jesse Martin” and continued that chant periodically during the game and between periods.
“That was really emotional; I actually got teary-eyed before the game,” said senior Anthony Maiani, who has frequently played on a line with Martin. “I can’t believe the support from the students and the rest of the fans. Signs of ’14,’ ‘Get well soon Jesse,’ it was unbelievable, and it got us going as well.”
“I was proud of our effort,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “You go through these traumatic situations so rarely, you don’t have a lot of experience to tap into. I thought our seniors and our support staff did a tremendous job all week long of being there for our players. We had a lot of energy, a lot of intensity. I think certainly the way it played out, and the way the these guys prepared, maybe the best thing that could have happened was playing against our rival.”
Denver played with a lot of fire throughout the first period, taking the play to the Tigers frequently and forcing Joe Howe to make several tough stops, including one on Maiani from the right circle. At the other end, the Pioneers played tough defense. Matt Donovan raced back up ice to prevent a Tyler Johnson breakaway by knocking the puck away with his stick near the hashmarks.
“It was an emotional week,” said Maiani. “I think one thing that helped us big time was that we got to see a video of Jesse Martin during the week. Coach brought one back with him. We saw him smiling and cracking jokes, and it really got us going. Today, he sent us all a text message.”
In the second period, the Pioneers used the momentum from killing an early five-on-three penalty to seize a three-goal lead. With CC already on a power play on a carryover of Donovan’s holding penalty in the first period, John Ryder was called for hooking at 1:05, giving CC 18 seconds of five-on-three power play time. However, the Tigers were only able to muster two shots during the nearly three minutes of man-advantage time.
“We had chances to get up there, three or four power-play chances,” said Tigers coach Scott Owens. “We had opportunities in the game to finish, to get up on them on the road, but we’re just not taking advantage of those situations. There’s no doubt we’re having trouble with speed; Denver’s a very quick team. Three goals against in their building, that’s not an awful night.”
While the Tigers power play was ineffective, the Pioneers power play struck quickly. At 5:12, with Arthur Bidwell in the box, Matt Donovan fed a pass from the left point to Maiani in the right circle. Maiani one-timed the shot low stick side, and Drew Shore tipped it past Howe.
Denver struck again late in the period on another power play, executing in a similar fashion. This time it was John Lee, standing at the left point, who got a pass from David Makowski at the right point. Lee one-timed Makowski’s pass low glove side past Howe at 15:52.
“I think our penalty kill part of the special teams this year has been pretty stingy, and obviously Sam Brittain is a big part of that,” said Gwozdecky. “It’s the power play that’s been rather anemic. We’ve worked a lot on the power play. We got two big power-play goals to give us that cushion, and it’s nice to see that work pay off.”
Barely had the announcer finished before the Pioneers struck again, this time at even strength. Jason Zucker fought off a check from Stephen Schultz behind the net and stepped out to his left, sending the puck off Howe. Howe never saw it and didn’t move as the puck deflected to his right and into the crease, where Luke Salazar poked it into the open net as he was driven to the ice by Gabe Guentzel at 16:25.
At 7:41 of the third, fans in the student section buzzed as Denver was awarded a penalty shot when Zucker was hauled down by Guentzel on a partial breakaway. However, Gwozdecky declined the penalty shot, electing to burn the two minutes of power play time.
One wondered if the Denver coach might regret that call at 14:49 when Schultz spoiled Brittain’s shutout bid on a power-play goal. Schultz picked up a rebound of a Rylan Schwartz shot in the left circle and beat a sliding Brittain high near side.
“A lot of people were wondering what the hell I was doing when I decided to decline the penalty shot,” said Gwozdecky. “It’s not the first time it’s been done. If the situation is different, if we’re defending a lead, or up by one or two, but with 12 minutes to go in the game, it’s all about eating clock. Nothing against Jason Zucker, he’s a good breakaway guy, but if their goaltender makes a big save, it gives them a lot of momentum.”
However, Zucker ended any Tigers hopes with 8.3 seconds left when he scored an empty-net goal from the left side boards. The goal was reward for Zucker’s hard work, as he raced up the ice and reached the puck ahead of the Tigers defense and fought for control behind the net, keeping the Tigers from clearing the zone.
“Jason continues to be a major contributor for our team, and it’s good to see,” said Gwozdecky. “Especially with as banged up as we are, we don’t have a lot of depth in our lineup, and we’re trying to spread our forward lines around so we have some decent scoring depth.
After the game, Gwozdecky confirmed that Martin has been transferred to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, and his surgery postponed until Monday.
“He has been transferred. They are tentatively scheduled for surgery on Monday afternoon, but things change.”