DENVER — Coming into the season, the No. 5 Denver Pioneers were pegged as a team with excellent defense that needed to find goal scoring.
Consider it found. For the fourth consecutive game, Denver scored five goals, getting a sweep of Michigan Tech with a 5-2 win. Joey LaLeggia and Shawn Ostrow each scored a goal and assist, while Adam Murray made 36 saves.
“We’re getting good balance,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “Certainly his teammates didn’t make it easy on Adam tonight. He earned that win. I was pleased with the way we started the game. I thought we came out and dictated the pace early, kind of like they did to us last night. ”
In a period dominated by special teams, the Pioneers struck first while skating four-on-four. Scott Mayfield let fly with a slap shot from the middle of the blue line. Pheonix Copley made the initial stop, but the rebound came to Quentin Shore, camped on the left side of the crease, and he shot the puck into the wide-open net at 12:14 before Copley could slide over.
Denver had a great chance to take a two-goal lead when it got a power play at 13:25. However, Michigan Tech made Denver pay for a turnover in the offensive zone when Dennis Rix and Chad Pietila broke in two-on-one. Rix looked pass before shooting a perfect wrist shot top corner glove side at 13:52 to tie it at one.
“The first period, we got in penalty trouble, and Denver did a good job; they got a lot of opportunities,” said Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson.
However, the tie didn’t last, as Denver grabbed the lead back before Michigan Tech could finish killing the penalty when LaLeggia spied David Makowski down by the crease and slid the puck to him along the ice. Makowski continued skating through the crease and beat Copley at 15:09.
“We were pretty lackadaisical on that short-handed goal that we gave up,” said Gwozdecky. “Certainly to be able to respond within that power play and be able to score to get that momentum back, your opponent is right back in the game and boom, they’re down again. The timing couldn’t have been better.”
The last two minutes of the period dissolved into a penalty fest that put Denver on a five-on-three that carried into the second period. Copley made several strong stops to keep the deficit to one. However, just as the last penalty time expired and Blake Pietila raced toward the defensive zone, LaLeggia let fly with a quick wrist shot from the blue line that beat Copley short side at 2:09.
“That was big for the team,” said LaLeggia. “It was a great pass from Nick Shore. He’s going to find you whenever you are open on the ice. It’s awesome playing with him, and it was great to get the goal for team.”
Instead of wilting, the Huskies renewed the attack, and carried much of the play for the rest of the period, outshooting Denver, 16-6. They had a golden chance with two minutes of five-on-three, but were unable to capitalize, nor could they score on either of their other power plays. Most of their shots were kept to the outside, and when they got close, Murray made some key stops.
“We had some great chances,” said Pearson. “Your best penalty killer has to be your goalie, and I thought Murray did a great job tonight. I thought we had a lot of good looks. Some nights they go in and some nights they don’t, and this weekend they just weren’t going in for us.”
The Huskies continued to dominate play early in the third. Chad Pietila had a golden chance near the five-minute mark on a rebound in the crease, but Murray made the stop.
Denver once again proved opportunistic. First, Paul Phillips passed it to Ostrow behind the goal line, and Ostrow stepped out and got a shot on net. Copley made the save, but Ostrow got the rebound as he was cutting through the crease to his right and knocked it in at 6:04.
Denver capped its scoring on a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play, capped off when Daniel Doremus one-timed a pass from Ostrow short side from the left circle at 9:12.
“It’s a little different than previous years; we have four lines that are contributing now,” said Ostrow. “It’s nice not relying on one player every night. Guys are chipping in.”
The Huskies were finally rewarded for their efforts when Rix picked up a rebound of Jimmy Davis’ shot and knocked it into an open net from the left side of the crease at 10:34.
“They picked up the pace; they’re not going to go down easy,” said Ostrow. “We got undisciplined there and took some penalties. We were able to get back on track and score some more goals.”