DENVER — It had to end at some point, though college hockey fans could be forgiven for thinking it might not happen this season. Buoyed by two short-handed goals, the Michigan Tech Huskies stunned the No. 4 Denver Pioneers, 3-2, at Magness Arena, breaking a 26-game winless streak. After the game, the players swarmed goalie Kevin Genoe at his net. Genoe made 23 saves in the win.
“I’m proud of the guys for sticking with things,” said Huskies coach Jamie Russell. “A big win on the road against the number four team in the country.”
Denver came out with the better of the play early, and looked to have a great chance to go up when they got a power play. However, a miscue proved costly. A pass from the left side boards eluded a diving Matt Donovan near the center of the blue line, and Patrick McCadden went racing up the far side boards with the puck with Jason Zucker hot on his heels. McFadden was kept from a breakaway and let loose a harmless looking shot from the left circle that hit goaltender Sam Brittain’s stick and rolled into the net at 5:22, giving the Huskies the lead.
“I thought we did a good job in zone,” said Russell of the penalty kill. “They have a powerful power play where they do a lot of nice things and spread the ice and get pucks to the net. I thought we did a good job blocking shots (and) Kevin Genoe was sharp. We got a good break on the first one when it squeezed through the legs of Brittain.”
Buoyed by the goal, the Huskies drew a couple of penalties, but Denver’s leading penalty kill kept the damage in check. Denver got its own power play late in the period and took advantage. Nick Shore got the puck in the left corner and fed Donovan at the top of the left circle. Donovan lined up his shot and waited till a sliding Daniel Holmberg went past him, then unloaded a slap shot that hit went past Genoe top corner glove side.
DU had a chance to grab the lead late on a short-handed try when Donovan broke in on a two-on-one and let loose a slap shot from almost the same spot he socred from, but Genoe made the save.
“We’re struggling,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “We have a number of guys who are struggling with their confidence. We have a number of guys who are really fighting it and confused as to how to handle the puck, when to pass and when to shoot it. It’s a little bit of limbo right now.”
Just as they did in the first period, the Huskies took Denver’s early flurries and then grabbed the lead on a seemingly harmless play. Deron Cousens sent the puck into the right corner from the red line, and Bennett Royer chased after it, reaching it in the corner, where he backhanded a pass past a Denver defender to Bryce Reddick in the crease. He fired a quick snap shot high glove side at 5;11.
A power play looked to be a great opportunity for Denver to tie it up, but the Huskies grabbed their second short-handed goal of the game. McCadden picked up the puck in the Huskies zone at the left corner and held it, then backhanded a cross-ice pass to Ryan Furne near the blue line. Furne raced out on a breakaway and deked to his backhand at the last minute, lifting it into the top right corner over Brittain’s glove at 8:38.
“Watching tape, we knew we had to shoot a lot of pucks and crash,” said freshman defenseman Brad Stebner, who assisted on the game-winning goal. “Two short-handed goals, that says a lot about our PK. Guys were blocking shots and getting the opportunity.”
Denver looked tentative from there on out, making several turnovers that led to good chances for Michigan Tech, but the Huskies were unable to convert.
“Our power play was extremeley ineffective,” said Gwozdecky. “There’s not much more to say than they outperformed us.”
Early in the third period, Drew Shore brought the crowd and the Pioneers to life with a dramatic goal. As he crossed the blue line at the left side boards, he left fly a screened shot that beat Genoe high short side at 2:18.
“Composure is big, and typically as a coaching staff you start looking at your older players; we don’t have any older players,” said Russell. “We’ve got Deron Cousens and Bennett Royer, the only seniors, and we don’t have a lot of juniors. You look at the ice and whose out there with five minutes left and a one-goal game, it’s a lot of freshman. That’s a learning process; you can talk about things with X’s and O’s, but I thought our guys did a great job tonight.
Denver poured on the pressure and got several chances, but Genoe made several good stops, including a goal-mouth save on Nick Shore from the right side of the crease.
“For a team that is struggling like us right now, any time the team gives up a lead, there’s that emotional challenge to overcome,” said Gwozdecky. “I thought going into the third period down by two with 20 minutes to go, I figured get one early is a good recipe for us. We got the one early, and then just couldn’t find the back of the net from there on. I thought they did a great job defending.”
Michigan Tech defenseman Brad Stebner
Michigan Tech coach Jamie Russell
Denver Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky