DENVER — Behind a hat trick from sophomore Drew Shore, the No. 12 Denver Pioneers beat the Lake Superior State Lakers, 6-3, in the second game of the Denver Cup. Denver will play intra-state rival Air Force Saturday in a game that will decide the winner of the tournament.
“To be completely honest, I think we need to be a lot better tomorrow night,” said assistant captain Dustin Jackson. “Give credit to them; they kept fighting back. We need to be a little more responsible.”
Both teams started the game slowly, but it was Denver who got the all-important first goal on a mad scramble. When Lakers goalie Brian Mahoney-Wilson lost sight of the puck in the crease, Kyle Ostrow managed to dig it loose from a Lakers defender and fire it low past a sliding Mahoney-Wilson at 14:15.
“It doesn’t have to be a perfect setup for a backdoor tap-in,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “This is a team that is challenging themselves quite a bit that in so ways is not as necessary as it has to be.”
The Lakers had a few good chances late, but time ran out, literally. Domenic Monardo got the puck in the left circle and beat Sam Brittain glove side, but the horn blew just before the puck went in. The no-goal call stood up on video review, sending the Pioneers to the locker room clinging to a 1-0 lead.
Early in the second, Denver went on a power play, looking to build the lead, but an errant pass led to a two-on-none the other way. Lakers defenseman Zach Trotman skated it the whole way, beating Brittain low stick side with a rocket from the top of the crease at 3:10.
Denver grabbed the lead back late in the period. Beau Bennett got the puck and skated it through the neutral zone, cutting to his right, and ripped a shot from the right circle that banked off the far post and in at 17:18.
“We’re battling hard there, and I thought our guys did a good job battling back, but we just couldn’t get the game tied,” said Lakers coach Jim Roque. “When you’re playing good teams on the road, you have to go into the locker room down only 2-1, or even 1-1. I didn’t think both goals were good. Brian should have had the second one, and he knows it.”
Denver continued to pressure, and with 2.8 seconds left in the period, Drew Shore got the puck on the right hashmarks of the left faceoff circle. He fanned on his initial shot, but got his stick on the puck and beat Mahoney-Wilson low glove side.
“Paul Phillips made a good play to get it in front,” said Shore. “First shot I got my stick lifted. Second one I just put it on net and was lucky it went in.”
The third period quickly turned into a sloppy defensive affair. Lake Superior got a goal back early to set the tone. Dillin Stonehouse took a shot from the right point that Brittain stopped with his right pad. The rebound came to Will Acton in the slot, and his shot was tipped past Brittain by Rick Schofield at 3:16.
Denver got its two-goal lead back on a power play at 9:21 on a goal by Jackson, who missed all of last season with an injury and has been out of the lineup until last weekend with mono. Anthony Maiani carried the puck behind the net and passed it to Jackson in the slot, and Jackson backhanded it stick side high past Mahoney-Wilson.
“It felt great; I got a lucky bounce there and I think that’s what I needed,” said Jackson. “It was an ugly goal, but I’ll take it. I’m still battling with the wind a little bit, but it’s getting better.”
“Certainly he’s a big body that we’ve missed in that lineup for almost two years now,” said Gwozdecky. “He’s still nowhere like where he’ll be when he’s back in his rhythm, but it’s really nice to have him out there.”
Lake Superior kept scrapping though, and Monardo got a poetic-justice goal at 11:47. He skated the puck out of the Lakers zone and up the left side, then ripped a snap shot from the left circle that beat Brittain high glove side. It was scored from almost the same spot and beat Brittain the same side as the goal he scored after time expired in the first.
“We made some plays in the ‘D-zone’ that weren’t very characteristic of us” said Shore. “We can’t keep giving up two-goal leads.”
Before the Lakers could get the equalizer, the Pioneers struck again on a fluky goal. Jason Zucker ripped a slap shot from the left side boards that hit Lakers defenseman Kyle Haines and bounced over to Drew Shore on the right side of the slot, and Shore fired it into the open net at 14:41.
“They got some good bounces,” said Roque. “Couple tough breaks there, but it’s a big part of the game. On the road, you have to be really precise. You can’t afford any letdowns for two, four, five minutes, not against teams like this.”
Shore got the hat trick at 18:20 on a power play. David Makowski passed it to Shore at the left point, and Shore one-timed it past Mahoney-Wilson low glove side, eliciting a flurry of hats onto the ice.
“I think it was midgets,” said Shore, when asked when he last scored a hat trick.
“As pleased as I am with the win and our ability to score when we needed to down the stretch, our lack of effort at times defensively and poor management of the puck was unacceptable,” said Gwozdecky. “That has to and needs to get better. As I told the players a few minutes ago after the game, there’s no team that’s going to play us any harder than the Air Force Falcons will tomorrow night. Frank Serratore and his staff have developed their program into a nationally competitive one. If we’re not ready to compete our tail off, it’s going to be a long night.”