DENVER — In a tight, defensive battle, the No. 12 Denver Pioneers beat the Air Force Falcons, 3-1, to win the Denver Cup. Tournament MVP and Denver native Drew Shore had a goal and an assist in the win, finishing with six points on the weekend.
“I never got to watch the Denver Cup growing up,” said Shore. “We talked about it today; we’ve won it 14 times out of the last 19, so being able to win it again is pretty special. I had a pretty good weekend and hopefully I can keep that up.”
Denver grabbed the lead just 2:12 into the game. Just 20 seconds into a power play, Drew Makowski one-timed a shot from the left point that Dustin Jackson tipped past Jason Torf. Jackson, who is only playing his third game in two years due to injuries and illness, also scored Friday night against Lake Superior.
“Shore just passed it across to ‘Mak,’ and he just saw me in front and put it right in my area and I got a little tip on it,” said Jackson.
“I’m surprised he’s been able to phyically handle the ice time he’s been given,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky of Jackson. “I know that he’s exhausted after games. He’s not completely back healthy where he can recover quickly, but to have his size and his understanding of his role is so important. He’s been a factor in the games he’s been in.”
Despite falling behind early, Air Force dominated the rest of the period, forcing Sam Brittain to make several tough stops, including a brilliant left pad save on a Jason Fabian wraparound attempt to a wide-open net. The Falcons outshot the Pioneers 16-7 in the period.
“We weren’t putting much pressure on them in the beginning of the game,” said Jackson. “We started getting pucks to the net, and guys driving to the net creates opportunities.”
Gwozdecky must have chewed his players out between periods, because they came out with fire and dominated the time-of-possession in the second, firing 23 shots on Torf to only 3 shots by Air Force. For much of the period, Torf made the stops, such as when he robbed Matt Donovan from the top fo the left circle with a blocker save.
“I’ll be really honest with you; tactically, there was nothing we did x’s and o’s-wise to change strategy,” said Gwozdecky. “We reminded them of a couple of things. There was nothing we really did to enhance their emotional level. There’s no question that the team was ready to play tonight. A little bit of a slow start, but certainly the last 40 minutes of the game were the best 40 minutes we’ve played all year.”
Air Force coach Frank Serratore disagreed with Gwozdecky’s assessment, feeling that the Pioneers made a change and his team didn’t respond to it.
“They changed their tactics; they went into a different style,” said Serratore. “They came hard with one man but they always had three or four guys back and they gummed it up, and they were terrific at a transition offense. We don’t play against that very often. They played a very methodical game. It appeared to me they changed the way they played in the second and third period and we didn’t respond to it very well.”
At 13:08, Denver thought they had grabbed a two-goal lead when Kyle Ostrow poked a rebound in during a mad scramble, but on video review, the goal was disallowed due to a crease violation.
Denver shook it off though, and capitalized again on a power play. This time it was Drew Shore, firing a rocket from the right point that beat Torf low.
“I definitely wanted to have a good start, and I think from a good start confidence starts to come,” said Shore.
With just over a minute to go, Air Force got a great opportunity. Shawn Ostrow was called for a five-minute major and game misconduct for checking from behind. During the lsat minute of the period, Air Force was unable to generate any good chances, and as time ticked down, Jason Zucker raced up the right boards and got a good shot off that Torf stopped. As Zucker circled behind the net, Air Force’s Tim Kirby followed him and hit him into the boards after the horn sounded, setting off some minor pushing and shoving. When it cleared, Kirby was called for roughing, negating much of the power play.
“It helps when you don’t have to kill the entire five minutes,” said Gwozdecky. “We only had to kill one minute at the end of the period, and then they got that penalty at the end. Our penalty killers did a great job tonight.”
With the timing of the major, Air Force was unable to get any quality chances in the first four minutes of the third. However, they made it interesting on a quick strike at 11:29. After forcing a turnover, Blake Page, who made the all-tournament team, sent a pass to Casey Kleisinger in the left circle, and he fired a shot low glove side past Brittain to bring the Falcons within one.
“The last seven minutes of the game, we’re defending a one-goal lead, and that’s probably as comfortable as I’ve felt behind the bench with a one-goal lead as I have been in a long time,” said Gwozdecky. “I thought our guys really played smart.”
Denver played smart the rest of the way, and though Air Force had a few rushes, they were unable to convert. Beau Bennett added an insurance goal at 19:52. He stepped out from behind the net on a wraparound, but the shot never got through. However, Torf lost sight of it, and the puck came right back to Bennett at the left side of the crease, and he lifted it in,
“You have to out-special team teams like this, and our special teams were miserable,” said Serratore. “We got a five-minute power play and turned it into a three-minute power play and we got nothing on that, and Denver got two power-play goals. They’re tough to play against. The way they play, it’s painful. You never seem to be able to get anybody loose; it’s like dying from 1,000 knife wounds.”
Shore, Jackson, Brittian, and Makowski, as well as Falcons Brad Sellers and Page, were named to the all-tournament team.
“He deserved to be MVP of the tournament,” said Gwozdecky of Shore. “He’s got a hot hand right now. He feels good about himself and it’s almost everything he shoots is going to the right spot. It’s nice to see him playing that way.”