College Hockey:
Freshmen propel Pioneers’ offense as Denver romps over Michigan Tech

— Riding a 27-save effort by Sam Brittain and a balanced scoring attack, the No. 5 Denver Pioneers beat Michigan Tech 5-1 in front of 4,935 at Magness Arena.

Nick Shore and David Makowski each notched a goal and an assist for DU.

“I don’t recall a Michigan Tech team as fast and as difficult to play against as that team was for us tonight,” said Pioneers’ coach George Gwozdecky. “We’ve had a lot of games against them and that’s a really good team. Certainly, they caught us out of position an awful lot in that first period.”

Michigan Tech tilted the ice to the DU zone for much of the period, getting better shots and several strong scoring chances that were turned aside by Brittain. Despite being outplayed for much of the period, it was the hosts who grabbed the early lead when freshman defenseman Dakota Mermis scored his first collegiate goal at 14:46 on a quick wrist shot from the middle of the blue line that beat Pheonix Copley top corner glove side.

“We definitely didn’t have the start we wanted,” said Brittain. “They came out hard. They had a great weekend last weekend against Minnesota and we fortunately were able to weather the storm and come out 1-0 and I think after that, we were able to step up our game.”

“I was glad that we could get to that first intermission without having a whole lot of bad stuff happen; Sam really kept us in there,” said Gwozdecky.

Denver grabbed the two-goal lead near the midway point of the second period, just after killing off a penalty. Shawn Ostrow got the puck back off a draw in the right faceoff circle to Makowski at the right point, who cut toward the middle of the blue line and let fly a slap shot that hit a Michigan Tech player’s skate and ricocheted top corner stick side at 8:29.

“I thought we had a territorial advantage in the first period, but they did a good job keeping us to the outside,” said Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson. “We didn’t get any, maybe one, grade-A scoring chances. He [Brittain] did a good job. He’s composed in the net.”

However, Denver took consecutive minors and it finally cost them on a play eerily similar to the second goal when Justin Fillion let fly a slap shot from the right point off a draw that hit Denver’s Zac Larraza and beat Brittain top corner glove side.

Late in the period, Jarrod Mermis skated the puck out of his zone and head-manned it to Matt Tabrum on the left side boards near the Tech blue line. Tabrum skated it up the boards and backhandeded it to a wide-open Quentin Shore in the slot, who fired a quick wrist shot top corner stick side at 16:50.

Just as Mermis had made the pass, Michigan Tech’s Tanner Kero made contact with his knee, sending Mermis to the ice, where he lay in pain even as his teammates celebrated. Kero was given a five-minute major and game misconduct and Mermis left the ice to be attended to.

“It’s a little relief off the shoulders,” said Quentin Shore. “It’s great to be able to get my first one. It was a great play by Jarrod Mermis to take a hit and make the play. I bumped it up to Matt Tabrum, who made an unbelievable pass to me in the slot. I had a ton of time and I saw the goalie cheating a little bit and shot it quick short side.”

Though Denver didn’t capitalize in the second, Joey Laleggia made the Huskies pay for it just 14 seconds into the third when he ripped a quick wrist shot from the right faceoff circle that beat Copley top corner stick side.

That was all on the night for Copley, who was replaced by Jamie Phillips.

“I don’t know if they were flat; we played pretty hard at the start, and as the game went on, I thought we got discouraged,” said Pearson. “I thought the third period, the game was over by then. We looked tired and didn’t move the puck well. We got away from how we need to play and almost played too passive. After you have a good weekend, everybody tells you how good you are. It’s college and the kids listen to some of that, but every night you have to show up and play.”

Despite having three consecutive power plays, Michigan Tech was stonewalled by Brittain and the Denver defense, which worked to keep the Huskies from generating any pressure down low. When they did, Brittain was there.

“The only puck that got by us was on a power play; Sam was completely screened,” said Gwozdecky. “When you are killing penalties as much as we had to, you have to have an outstanding goaltender to keep them off the board, and Sam did that.”

At 15:32, Denver struck again when Nick Shore fired a wrist shot from the top of the right faceoff circle top corner stick side.

“Bennett, Zucker, Drew Shore, Salazar, who are those guys?” laughed Gwozdecky, when asked about the balanced scoring from a team that is averaging five goals a game. “If you look at our scoring and where it’s coming from, you are only as good as your goaltender and your defensemen. I think our defense, of the 15 goals we have scored, six have come from our defensive core. That’s one of our strengths. To be able to go back and retrieve a puck and transition it up the ice to the forwards and then join the play, that’s a critical position for any team. Certainly all seven of those guys have pitched in.”

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