For the second consecutive Friday, the No. 5 Denver Pioneers got a late goal to tie a game at one and force overtime. This time, the Pioneers escaped with a tie, but not before goaltender Juho Olkinuora was forced to stop a breakaway by Wisconsin’s Jefferson Dahl in the final minute.
“Our opponent played a very smart defensive game,” said Pioneers coach Gwozdecky. “They really collapse smartly to their net. Things were not going well for us throughout the evening. We found a way to tie it in the end.”
Despite a plethora of shots by both teams in the scoreless first period, there were few good scoring chances. Denver’s came on its lone power play when Daniel Doremus was fighting for a loose puck with an open net yawning in front of him as Wisconsin goalie Joel Rumpel tried to get back in position, but he couldn’t get the puck before one of the Badgers defensemen slid over to force Doremus into the corner. At the other end, Olkinuora made a great blocker save on Derek Lee’s rocket snap shot from the slot late in the period.
Both teams tightened up in the second, but quality chances were again few and far between. Wisconsin had a couple of shots go wide of the net on its power play, though the proximity to the net elicited “oohs” from the crowd. At the other end, Shawn Ostrow had a good chance when he raced up the right side boards and cut hard to the net, eluding a sliding Frankie Simonelli, but his backhand went wide of the net.
“There were times in the second period where there was more play between the tops of the circles back and forth than there were any scoring opportunities,” said Gwozdecky.
The third period started with Wisconsin taking it to a suddenly tired-looking Denver team. At 7:06, the Badgers finally capitalized. John Rampage fired a slap shot off a draw won by Joseph LaBate, and Michael Mersch, who fought off Dakota Mermis at the top of the crease, deflected it past Olkinuora’s right pad.
Shortly thereafter, Wisconsin had a golden chance to extend the lead when Nick Shore was called for tripping, but Olkinuora made a stop on a wild goalmouth scramble to keep it at one, and then Simonelli got called for interference to give Denver some power play time after Shore got out of the box. Late in the third, Olkinuora was called on to make another big save, this time on a breakaway by Tyler Barnes, but Olkinuora got the pads down to keep Denver in the game.
“It’s what I signed up for,” said Olkinuora. “You can’t really overthink anything. You have to rely on your reflexes and your skills in general.”
That loomed large when Denver pulled Olkinuora with about two minutes left. Off a draw, Joey LaLeggia skated in from the right point and cut toward the net near the goal line, firing a sharply-angled snap shot that beat Rumpel along the inside post at 18:44.
“I just got a little room off the faceoff and got a shot on net, and luckily it went in,” said LaLeggia. “I was looking for a rebound actually, because I saw guys crashing the net. With solid goalies, all you can do is keep shooting the puck and hope eventually one will go in.”
“It’s going to take a little bit more, maybe a few more plays at the end of the game, and maybe a few more goals,” said Mersch. “Overall we did some good things. We’re going to focus on those. We were winning the game with a minute left and couldn’t come through with the final play.”
In the overtime, Denver started strong, and had a golden chance when Dahl was sent to the box for tripping. However, Denver’s power play was ineffectual, and as Dahl got out of the box, he was sprung on a breakaway, forcing Olkinuora to make a spectacular save with his right pad.
“In the overtime, I almost hoped they picked up the flag on the penalty, because the power play gave them momentum and didn’t give us anything,” said Gwozdecky. “Our power play refuses to shoot the puck. Our power play is overpassing right now. I think that we’ve got guys on the power play who want to create the back door play. I thought Olkinuora was terrific for us tonight.”