CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — The No. 3 Denver Pioneers defeated No. 1 Boston College, 4-2, on Friday night, but if you ask Denver head coach George Gwozdecky, Friday night’s win was a year in the making.
Gwozdecky remembers well a two-game sweep his team suffered early last year on home ice against the Eagles. According to the Denver bench boss, though, those losses were the building blocks for Friday’s victory.
“The Eagles came to our town at this time last year and took it to us in a big way,” said Gwozdecky. “That series helped us tremendously. We found out very quickly what we had to do to improve. Certainly, that’s helped us and it’s a motivation factor knowing what happened last year.”
One person who wasn’t a factor in last year’s series who played a huge role on Friday was Denver goaltender Adam Murray (21 saves). Murray was called into action only when Sam Brittain was sidelined with a preseason knee injury. Murray, a junior who had just 17 decisions under his belt prior to Friday, looked like a veteran in the starting role, rarely getting out of position and controlling his rebounds through the game.
Another major factor in Friday’s game was the quality of the ice. Extreme humidity in Boston on Friday made the ice very soft for both teams. That’s something that played into Denver’s hands late in the game when the Pioneers were playing with a lead.
“We knew because of the quality of the ice, with a lead we could play a little bit more cautiously and they would have to make the play,” said Gwozdecky. “We decided to be a little more safe. It’s games like this where you have to learn how to play in the third period and I thought we did a good job in the last 20.”
Denver got on the scoreboard early, scoring on its first shot of the game. WCHA preseason player of the year Jason Zucker picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and skated past the BC defenders, firing a shot five-hole on BC netminder Parker Milner (18 saves) for the 1-0 lead at 3:27.
“Dusty Jackson made the play,” said Zucker. “He did all the work and chipped the puck out for me. I was just able to squeeze it in five-hole somehow.”
BC responded quickly, though, scoring just 73 seconds later. Barry Almeida took a pass in the slot from Kevin Hayes, waited out Murray and roofed a shot to knot the game at 1.
In the second, Denver again scored on its first shot of the period, this time as Beau Bennett fired a puck from below the faceoff dots that eluded Milner.
As BC pressed to again even the game, the Pioneers expanded their lead. Zucker centered a perfect goalmouth pass to Drew Shore, who tipped the puck past Milner inside the right post at 9:49 for a 3-1 lead.
The Eagled closed the gap late in the second. Hayes, who twice had missed on point plank shots made the third time count, firing a perfect pass from Almeida over Murray’s glove to draw BC within a goal at 3-2.
Denver had its chance to regain the two-goal margin as Zucker had a breakaway with eight seconds left in the frame. Shooting low, Milner stoned him to keep BC within a goal heading to the third.
In the final 20, Denver turned the game into a defensive battle. Though the Pioneers posted just nine shots themselves, they limited BC to just eight shots. Only one, a Paul Carey shorthanded wraparound attempt, was of the grade-A variety.
With 44.1 seconds left, BC coach Jerry York called his timeout on a neutral zone draw with Milner pulled. That did nothing, though, as Nick Shore won the draw back to David Makowski, who promptly fired a perfect 160-foot shot into the open net.
Denver wins its season opener for the fifth straight season and is now 10-8-0 in opening games under Gwozdecky.
BC, which won the Ice Breaker tournament a weekend ago, falls to 2-1-0, but will have a chance to rebound on Saturday against New Hampshire.
“We’ve had back-to-back games against (strong) teams in North Dakota and Denver,” said York. “It’s always good to test yourself early against good clubs. Now we look forward to our league which starts (Saturday) night.”