DENVER — In a wild, back-and-forth game, the No. 12 Denver Pioneers edged the No. 3 Colorado College Tigers in front of 6,148 fans at Magness Arena. The Pioneers looked to be winning easily, but the Tigers fought back, forcing Denver to just hang on.
“In the games we’ve played against these guys, so often no lead is safe, and certainly we were in great control of that game the first half of the second period,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “I felt good about how we were playing, but we made a couple of crucial mistakes. For the most part, we played OK in the third period. I thought there were times when we played nervous.”
The Tigers came out firing, getting the first four shots of the game, and at one point held a 7-1 shot advantage. Both teams had early power plays on which they didn’t convert.
The Pioneers struck first at 9:02 on a play that was actually set up in their own zone. Tigers forward Rylan Schwartz held the puck at the left side boards and started to move toward the slot with an open lane. It looked like he would have a golden chance, but Beau Bennett was backchecking and lifted Schwartz’s stick before he could get the shot off. The puck squirted back, and Luke Salazar raced up the right side boards with Bennett trailing. As Salazar stepped over the blue line, he dropped it back to Bennett, who passed it right back to Salazar and cut toward the slot. Salazar fed the puck back to Bennett in the slot, and Bennett one-timed it high stick side past Tigers goalie Joe Howe.
“Arguably, Beau was our hottest player before he got hurt,” said Gwozdecky. “That line he was on with Nick Shore was playing really well. You can’t replace a guy of the quality of Beau Bennett. He’s back in the lineup tonight and he makes a difference.”
Denver looked to have a great chance to pick up the two-goal lead when they went back on a power play late in the period, but the Tigers defense held. As the penalty was winding down, Jaden Schwartz picked up the puck and started to head up ice. As he crossed his own blue line, Pioneers defenseman Scott Mayfield stepped up and leveled him. The referees ruled that Mayfield hit Schwartz high and gave him a five minute major and game misconduct. During the final 2:42 of the first, the Tigers pressured Denver, and Adam Murray had to make a stop on a partial breakaway by Nick Dineen.
The Tigers started the second with 2:18 of power play time left from the five-minute major. A seemingly harmless play got the Tigers on the board at 1:28 when Eamonn McDermott got the puck at the right point and fired a soft wrist shot on net that beat Murray low stick side.
“I thought we did a terrific job of killing the penalty,” said Gwozdecky. “A five-minute major against a team that has a power play like they do, the goal they scored was kind of weak.”
However, that play seemed to ignite the Pioneers in a wild period that saw seven goals total scored. Drew Shore got the Pioneers going quickly, preventing CC from building any momentum. Shore got the puck along the left side boards on a pass from Jason Zucker and spun out toward the crease, firing a quick wrist shot that beat Howe short side at 2:33.
“I’m not sure what happened on the goal,” said Shore. “I just put it on net and it went in. I’ve kind of been fighting it the last couple of weekends.”
“That’s a backbreaker, because you want to score once or twice, but you definitely want to get momentum off it,” said Tigers coach Scott Owens. “That just switched it right around, and we found ourselves for 10 minutes there out of synch.”
Denver built on its lead when Shawn Ostrow got the puck on the left side boards and fed a pass to Chris Knowlton streaking through the slot on the far side. Knowlton lifted a quick wrist shot from the slot that beat Howe glove side at 8:58.
Shortly thereafter, Shore knocked the puck up the left side boards toward neutral ice, where Zucker picked it up and raced one-on-one on Tigers defender Gabe Guentzel. Just below the left faceoff dot, Zucker started to cut toward the net and fired a quick wrist shot that beat Howe glove side at 10:36. At that point Owens pulled Howe and replaced him with Josh Thorimbert.
The bleeding wasn’t done yet. Daniel Doremus got the puck at the right side blue line and made a nice play to knock it past a Tigers defender to Shore on the right side boards. Shore passed it to John Lee in the slot, who fired a shot five-hole at 13:42.
It seemed Denver was set to run away with it, but a costly defensive play got the Tigers back in the game. With the Pioneers pressing. Dakota Eveland raced toward the puck on the right side boards in his zone and knocked it past Joey LaLeggia, who was pinching, and raced up the right side boards on a three-on-one. From inside the blue line on the right side, he fired a wrist shot that beat Murray high stick side at 15:13.
“That’s a freshman mistake,” said Gwozdecky of LaLeggia pinching. “That’s a junior hockey play that you make because you play 65 games, but you don’t play that way at this level or the next level.”
A defensive zone turnover proved costly for Denver late when they weren’t able to clear the puck from the middle of the slot. The puck ended up on the stick of Archie Skalbeck, who, with his back to the net, pivoted and shot it on the ice, beating Murray five-hole at 17:05.
“I’m proud of our guys,” said Owens. “I thought we battled hard. We competed at the end of the second period and the whole third period. It would have been nice to come out of here with a point. I’m also happy with some of the different scoring we had tonight; four sophomores scored.”
The Pioneers clamped down defensively in the third period, holding back on the offensive rushes and trying to prevent the Tigers from generating quality shots. Through the first 15 minutes of the period, CC outshot Denver 15-3, though many were low-quality shots.
“We wanted to stay confident and positive,” said Shore. “We tried to remain calm on the bench and get back to playing our game.”
At 13:56 however, Jeff Collett picked up the puck low along the left side boards and stepped toward the goal, firing a quick wrist shot from a shallow angle that beat Murray five-hole.
With about a minute left, the Tigers pulled Thorimbert in a scramble for the equalizer. Zucker had a chance for an empty-net goal, but tried to skate too far into the zone and ended up shooting it wide. The Tigers were unable to get into the zone in the last 20 seconds, and Denver held on for the win.