DENVER — In a tightly-contested back and forth game, the No. 15 Denver Pioneers got a late power-play goal to edge the Minnesota State Mankato Mavericks 3-2 in front of 5,198 fans at Magness Arena.
“A very difficult game, and a game we found a way to win,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “I thought they played a smart road game, and their goaltender was very good. At times, we played well and carried the play.”
Denver looked determined early to put last week’s 9-2 debacle against Colorado College behind them. Luke Salazar had a golden chance from the slot on a rebound 30 seconds in that was stopped by netminder Phil Cook. Even when the Mavericks had a power play, they could generate little offense, as the Pioneers defense clamped down tightly. Seven minutes in, they had outshot Minnesota State 8-1.
“We tried to put that behind us and not talk about it too much,” said defenseman Matt Donovan of the CC game. “I think we talked about it a little bit and we knew what we had to do after that game.”
Denver struck first on a beautiful setup play by Beau Bennett, who picked up the puck near the left boards in the Pioneers zone and spied Drew Shore streaking up the middle behind the Mavericks defense. Bennett fed a perfect pass that Shore picked up at the blue line, and Shore streaked in alone on Cook, shifted to his backhand at the last minute, and lifted it low stick side off Cook’s pad into the net at 5:56.
Shore got another breakaway two minutes later, but Cook made the stop when he tried to beat him with a quick move to his forehand. Right after that, Kyle Ostrow rang a shot off the right post.
Despite carrying the play for most of the period, a mistake in their own end cost the Pioneers, as the puck squirted free to Channing Boe in the left corner, and he fed a pass to Justin Jokinen in the left circle. Jokinen had a clear path to the net, and beat Sam Brittain near side at 14:56. The goal gave the Mavericks a boost, and they put pressure on Denver the rest of the period, forcing the Pioneers to take a couple of penalties.
“I thought for the first 10 minutes or so Denver played extremely well and we weathered the storm,” said Mavericks coach Troy Jutting. “We came back and played pretty well for two periods. I thought both goalies played well tonight.”
After killing off some carry-over penalty time at the start of the period, Denver got the lead back when Donovan fought off two Mavericks and skated in from the point on the left side. He passed it to Luke Salazar near the far post, and Salazar had a wide-open net to tap it into at 4:24.
“It just kind of opened up for me and I waited,” said Donovan. “I had my head up and saw ‘Sal’ at the last second and slid it over to him for the open net.”
Penalties and turnovers continued to plague Denver late in the period however. With Nick Shore alread in the box, John Ryder turned the puck over in his zone when he had a chance at a clear, and the resulting Mavericks pressure led to another penalty, this time on Kyle Ostrow. Though they had 1:12 of five-on-three power play time, the Mavericks did everything but score. At one point, the puck got behind Brittain and trickled along the goal line before it was cleared by Denver.
“The little things may not mean a lot, but it certainly means the difference between scoring and goal and keeping the puck out of the net,” said Gwozdecky. “I thought we competed hard, but not as smart as we can.”
With just under a minute left in the period, the combination of a missed offsides call and a Denver turnover helped Minnesota State tie it up again. Andrew Sackrison appeared to be offsides carring the puck into the zone, and he dumped it behind the net, allowing the Mavericks to change. Donovan carried the puck up ice almost languidly, and his pass up the middle was intercepted by Erian Hayes, who raced up the left side on a partial breakaway, lifting the puck top corner glove side with 38.8 seconds left to tie it up.
“I saw (Jason) Zucker flying up the side and tried to lay it in there, and he picked it off with his hand,” said Donovan. “I probably should have made a harder play up the boards or something. That was definitely my fault and not what we wanted. I was expecting my partner to be there and I kind of sat back and looked for someone else to come back. Not exactly how we planned it.”
Denver finally clamped down on the penalties in the third, and grabbed the lead again at 16:11 with a power-play goal. After extended pressure in the Mavericks zone, David Makowski ripped a slap shot from the left point that beat a screened Cook low glove side, a lead that held up until the final horn.
“I saw the forward so I was trying to get it just to the right of him,” said Makowski. “I wasn’t really trying to pick a spot. I was trying to get it on net and luckily it went in.”
“You can’t give up a goal from the blue line against the boards,” said Jutting. “He (Cook) played well, but you have to stop that one. It came down to a couple of plays, and they made them and we didn’t.”
For the Pioneers, the key to this week’s success was to quickly put behind them the brutal loss against their archrival last weekend.
“You have to have a short memory,” said Gwozdecky. “You have to put it in the past and move forward. Great teams and great athletes have that type of short memory.”