DENVER — In front of 4,161 fans at Magness Arena, including an enthusiastic student section repeatedly chanting “U.S.A.” and serenading McGill netminder Hubert Morin with “God Bless America,” the No. 4 Denver Pioneers rallied for a 2-2 tie with the McGill Redmen.
“I thought we did some good things at times,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “Certainly without practicing at all, other than the captains’ practices, you can see certain things that we got better at as the game wore on. I thought we struggled like crazy early in the game with our transition game, but we got better.”
After a slow start, Denver made the most of its first power play opportunity of the season. With McGill’s Francis Verrault-Paul off for hooking, Denver forward Beau Bennett got the puck along the left boards below the left circle and worked a give-and-go with fellow sophomore Jason Zucker, who was cutting toward the slot. Zucker took the pass and fired a quick wrist shot that beat Morin top corner short side at 10:17.
The second period featured more back and forth play, and Denver netminder Adam Murray was called on to make more saves, as he faced 11 shots, helped in part by three McGill power plays.
Murray looked sharp, and it looked like the Pioneers would escape unscathed. However, as a penalty to freshman defenseman Scott Mayfield expired late in the period, the Pioneers got the puck at their own blue line and iced the puck with 17 seconds left. On the ensuring faceoff, Pioneers defensemen Paul Phillips and David Makowski had a defensive breakdown, as both headed toward the right side boards, leaving Paul alone behind them in the slot. McGill’s Marc-André Dorion fed the puck from the right side boards to Paul, who fired a quick shot past Murray before he could slide over and cover his far post. The goal came at the 19:59 mark.
“I was glad to see Adam play two solid periods,” said Gwozdecky. “Obviously the goal we gave up with .4 seconds left, in the regular season, if that game counts, four of those guys aren’t on the ice for that faceoff with six seconds to go, but in a situation like this, these guys have to grow. They have to find out what it’s like to play with under a minute left and take a big faceoff in their zone. That’s what development is all about.”
Some of the after-the-whistle pushing and shoving from the end of the second spilled over into a melee in front of Denver goalie Juho Olkinuora, who replaced Murray at the start of the third period. Denver got a power play out of the scrum, and had a couple of golden chances to retake the lead,including Drew Shore getting robbed on a give-and-go as he drifted down from the right point.
Instead, McGill took the lead when a clearing pass from Nicolas Biniek bounced off the left side boards and split the Denver defense, allowing Benoit Levesque to walk in alone on a breakaway, tucking the puck five-hole at 11:42 to give McGill the lead.
Denver poured on the pressure, generating some of their best chances of the night, including when Nick Shore just missed coming through the crease on the left post.
With time winding down, Zucker took a pass from Drew Shore and raced down the left side, beating Morin with a rocket from the top of the circle at 17:09.
McGill almost scored at the end of the third on an play eerily similar to their second goal, as a clear bounced off the right side boards and allowed Maxime Langelier-Parent to beat the defense on a partial breakway, but Olkinuora made the pad save with 7.3 seconds left.
“I thought Juho played really well down the stretch; with seven seconds to go, we gave up that other breakaway and he made a great play on it to keep the game tied,” said Gwozdecky.
In the overtime, both goalies were called upon to make some big stops, including a mad scramble in front of the Denver net with 20 seconds left, but the score remained tied.
“Certainly McGill, they were the national runner-up last year, and they’ve only lost three of their guys; they’re supposed to be one of the top teams in the country this coming year, so they are the kind of opponent we needed to play to really push us and force us to get back into our game mode,” said Gwozdecky.