DENVER — In a wild, back-and-forth game, the No. 11 Denver Pioneers rallied from a three-goal deficit to tie the No. 19 Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, 3-3, before 5,205 fans at Magness Arena.
It didn’t take long for the Mavericks to grab the lead. Pioneers defenseman John Lee tried to make a cross-ice pass from deep in his zone, but he mishit the puck and it was intercepted by Jayson Megna, who knocked the puck behind Lee and eluded Lee’s attempted check. He had the puck on his backhand alone on Murray, and lifted a shot top corner at just 2:01.
The Mavericks built on their lead on a pretty play that was set up by some hard forechecking in the left corner. Megna ended up with the puck and skated behind the Pioneers net. As he came out to Murray’s left, he slid the puck across the crease to Josh Archibald, who was driving down the right side of the slot, and Archibald knocked it past Murray’s sprawled pad.
“Anything that could go wrong went wrong for us in that first period,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “Take nothing away from them, they competed hard, but wow, some of the goals we gave up, number one, number two, were served up on a platter.”
It’s not that Murray had been playing badly, but when he lay on the ice after a scramble in front of his net and had to be helped off with 1:17 to go, you could almost feel that it might end up costing Denver. It seemed the Pioneers would get out of the period however, when Michael Young dumped the puck in with a slap shot from the center ice line. Juho Olkinuora misplayed the puck, and it slid into the net at 19:38.
“You just have to forget about the first goal,” said Olkinuora. “It bounced kind of funny. I guess I should have been more ready. I’m not going to blame it on anything. It was just a bad bounce and I read the play terribly wrong.”
Denver needed to quickly turn that around, and it did so early when Shawn Ostrow carried the puck to his right across the crease, froze freshman goaltender Dayn Belfour, then lifted the puck into the open net at 1:38.
“I think that line was probably our best line throughout the weekend,” said Gwozdecky of Ostrow’s line. “That goal tonight got us back in the game.”
The goal seemed to give Denver new life, and the Pioneers dominated the action offensively in the second period. The team’s big line finally got on the board when Drew Shore sprung Jason Zucker on a breakaway with a beautiful pass up the middle between two Mavericks’ defenders. Zucker fired a snap shot from the slot top corner stick side at 13:13 to close the gap.
“There’s not a lot of guys in college hockey who can make that goal, but you got speed and you get a way to get the puck in the net and Zucker’s going to find a little hole,” said Blais.
Denver completed its rally early in the third on a quick power-play goal. Beau Bennett was sprung up the right side by Zucker, who took a body check from a Mavericks defender to make the play. Bennett skated to the right faceoff circle and lasered a tough-angle shot far side top corner at 5:34.
The Pioneers did seem to have the better of the play for the rest of the third period, but Belfour made some stops. The overtime featured more back and forth play, and Olkinuora had to make several big saves.
With about a second left in overtime, the Mavericks had one last excellent chance to win it when Brent Gwidt got loose in the slot and shot it right on goal, forcing Olkinuora to make a pad save.
“It was nothing special, I was just trying to save the puck,” said Olkinuora. “I didn’t know there was that much time left.”