DENVER — An inch. That’s how far the No. 5 Denver Pioneers were from rallying for a third time in the game to tie it up and send it into overtime. However, St. Cloud goalie Mike Lee got rewarded for his hard work all evening, and Luke Salazar’s one-time shot from the left circle clanged off the post. Aaron Marvin’s goal with less than two minutes left propelled the St. Cloud State Huskies to a 3-2 win in Denver.
“You have to have a little luck once in a while,” said a relieved Huskies coach Bob Motzko.
For the ninth time in 10 games, Denver gave up the first goal, and again did so early. This time, it was on a screened shot from the right point by Brett Barta at 3:19 that found a space in between Sam Brittain’s glove and left pad.
“It was definitely big getting that first goal and making that lead hold up for two periods, and we made them work for it,” said Marvin.
After Brittain made a few big stops, including saves on two consecutive power plays, Denver regrouped and started to generate pressure. It paid off on a beautiful play when Drew Shore, stationed in the left corner, found Luke Salazar skating down the left side of the slot and fed him a pass. Salazar lifted it top shelf stick side at 13:10 to tie it up.
“I thought it was a strange game; I thought the puck at times bounced very strangely,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “I thought we got a little too cute at times. St. Cloud is playing well.”
Almost immediately after Salazar’s goal, Denver took a penalty that cost them on the ensuing power play. Ben Hanowski got a pass from Jordy Christian and held it to just off the goal line on the right side. He then stepped out toward the net and roofed a shot short side past Brittain’s glove at 15:07.
“It was resilient,” said Motzko. “You have to get used to Denver. They are so deliberate in their systems, but we got a lead out of it. I thought we hunkered in.”
Denver got its own late power play, but was unable to convert. The second period featured lots of back-and-forth play before St. Cloud established itself territorially in the second half and generated consistent pressure, but Brittain made several big stops.
Early in the third, Brittain held his post as Marvin just couldn’t reach the puck near the goal line to lift it over Brittain’s pad. That play loomed large moments later when Nick Shore scored for Denver to tie it up, getting a pass from Beau Bennett and ripping a shot from the slot that beat Lee five-hole.
Late in the period, Nick Shore drew a penalty when he was hauled down on a partial breakaway, but the power play was nullified a minute later when David Makowski took a holding penalty on Marvin’s short-handed bid. Right after that, St. Cloud got called for too-many-men, and Denver had a four-on-three, but were unable to get the puck past Lee.
That finally cost them when Marvin and Travis Novak broke in two-on-one. Novak skated up the right side and slid the puck to Marvin on the far post, and he tapped it past Brittain at 18:24.
“A lot of hard work by Travis Novak,” said Marvin. “We snuck the puck in the blue line and broke down two-on-one. He tried passing and the defenseman blocked it, and he got it to me again and I was able to put it in back door.”
“We made two critical mistakes there at the end in penalties, and you think, ‘We’re doomed,’ but somehow, Aaron Marvin, he deserved that; he had a great game,” said Motzko.
Gwozdecky called time and pulled Brittain, and that led to Salazar’s last-minute unsuccessful bid.
Denver still is in position to claim the second seed in the WCHA playoffs if they can come back and win Saturday.
“I think in some ways, it’s good to be able to put a premium on a game like tomorrow night,” said Gwozdecky. “I think it will be exciting. Our team will be over the disappointment tomorrow morning and be a little more prepared to win a game that’s important for us, win a game that will send the seniors out in a blaze of glory type thing.”
Interview with Aaron Marvin
Interview with Bob Motzko
Interview with George Gwozdecky