On Friday night against Yale, No. 2 Denver came out flat and never got untracked. On Saturday against No. 3 New Hampshire, the Pioneers jumped all over the visitors in the first period, then fell apart defensively as New Hampshire’s top two centers, Grayson Downing and Kevin Goumas, each scored hat tricks to give the Wildcats a 6-4 come-from-behind victory.
“Obviously it was a terrific team effort coming back, and the guys never quit,” said New Hampshire coach Dick Umile. “We’ve been down 3-0 earlier in the year back home in Hockey East and we knew we were capable of doing it. It’s an absolutely fabulous win for us against a very good team.”
Right after failing to convert on an early power play, freshman Gabe Levin got the Pioneers on the board when he made a rush and got a shot on net as he cut through the crease. The puck beat New Hampshire goaltender Casey DeSmith at 5:18. For Levin, whose penalty in overtime the night before led to Yale’s game-winner, the goal had an extra measure of sweetness.
Barely had the crowd finished cheering when Daniel Doremus scored a on quick wrist shot from the right circle that beat DeSmith to the far post at 6:23. Denver made it 3-0 on a rocket one-timer by Matt Tabrum from the right circle at 9:05 off a pass from Ty Loney. That was all for DeSmith on the night, who was replaced by Jeff Wyer.
If there was a dark side to Denver’s dominating first period performance, it was the power play, which went 0-for-3. Early in the second, the Pioneers had another chance on the power play, but instead gave up a short-handed goal for the second consecutive night at 3:49 when Downing broke in two-on-one and ripped a snap shot from the right circle that beat Sam Brittain high.
“The penalty kill has been tremendous all season for us, and again tonight it was awesome,” said Umile. “He (Downing) and Kevin Goumas are two very good hockey players and they came through for us tonight.”
Downing closed the gap to one at 7:41 when he one-timed a slap shot from the top of the slot off a pass from Goumas that beat Brittan five-hole. The teams were skating four-on-four at the time.
“Once again, I closed my eyes,” laughed Downing. “I think that’s the best way to do it, is to close your eyes and hope for the best. I think he just wasn’t set for it, wasn’t ready, and it went through his legs.”
Just two minutes later, Goumas had a golden chance to tie it when he picked up a bouncing puck and cut in alone on Brittain, but Brittain got his left pad out on Goumas’ backhand from in close.
“When you get that many chances, even in the first period I hit two posts, then I had the breakaway and he made a great save, I just stayed with it,” said Goumas.
That save proved a huge momentum swing, because on Denver’s next rush up the ice, Loney carried the puck along the left side boards and let loose a quick wrist shot that was blocked by a New Hampshire defender, but the puck came back to Loney, whose second shot beat Wyer at 10:09.
“It’s sort of a letdown,” said Downing. “You just have to stay positive.”
Barely a minute later, Goumas had another breakaway and wound up and took a slap shot from the left circle, but Brittain made the stop to preserve the two-goal lead.
Though Denver had some power-play time entering the third, it was unable to convert on a wild scramble in front, and then Downing earned the hat trick right after the penalty ended, blasting a shot over Brittain’s left shoulder at 1:19 of the third to cut the Pioneers’ lead to one.
New Hampshire poured on the pressure, and Denver went into a defensive shell. For large stretches of play, Denver couldn’t even get the puck out of its zone, and generated nary a shot on goal. It ended up costing them when Goumas scored on a wild scramble at 14:24, shooting from the left side of the crease to tie the game.
“I don’t know if it’s not to lose or the other team putting more pressure on,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “We just couldn’t get it out. There’s one team that wants to win and one team that’s trying to clear the zone. I certainly think that I felt that even on their tying goal, we mismanaged the puck.”
Right after the goal, Denver had a great chance, but Wyer stopped Chris Knowlton’s quick shot from the crease. Then at 16:40, Goumas gave New Hampshire its first lead of the night when his wrist shot from the blue line beat Brittain low glove side. Goumas added an empty-net goal with 22 seconds left for the final score.
“Pretty humbling weekend,” said Gwozdecky. “Certainly I think we were ready to go for one of the two games, and we had a good start but the one thing that really hurt us tonight was we played against a good team that took advantage of a lot of our poor puck management.”