GRAND FORKS, N.D. — As most goaltenders will tell you, sometimes the most dazzling of saves starts with misreading a play.
Such was the case in the mind of Denver goaltender Juho Olkinuora, whose ‘desperation’ save of a Mark MacMillan one-timer punctuated a nevertheless dazzling performance by the sophomore netminder.
Olkinuora made 31 saves, many on grade-A opportunities, in guiding Denver (9-4-2, 2-2-2 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) to a 2-2 tie with North Dakota (7-5-3, 4-2-3 WCHA) in front of 11,717 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena Friday night.
Denver dressed only 16 skaters and double-shifted parts of its top line all night, but when the team’s fatigue showed, Olkinuora —- named the game’s first star by the media —- was there every time in the game’s last 25 minutes.
“I thought Olkinuora was our number one star tonight,” said Denver coach George Gwozdecky. “He held North Dakota at bay when they really came on strong in that third period – (including a) simply outstanding save to keep the game tied.”
The save he — and everyone else —- was talking about was on a two-on-one rush over halfway through the third, with two speedy, talented forwards in MacMillan and Danny Kristo cruising down the boards. Kristo made a play around a defenseman and looked to shoot before dishing it to MacMillan for what looked like a wide open one-timer.
But somehow, Olkinuora dove across the crease and got his arm on it, keeping a 2-2 tie intact. It wowed the sold-out Ralph crowd, but Olkinuora knew better than to celebrate being out of position.
“I kind of overplayed the shot there; it was kind of a two-on-one,” Olkinuora said. “He caught me just standing still there. That was a desperation save. I’m not really proud of that, it’s not really textbook, but I’m glad I saved it.”
Olkinuora saved all 11 he faced in the third and all five he faced in overtime to earn the Pioneers another point, though it did extend their winless streak to five.
“We knew coming into the season that we had strengths in goal and at the blue line,” said Gwozdecky. “Certainly Olkinuora showed that tonight.”
A performance like that usually earns you another night in net, but Gwozdecky said he’ll likely continue dealing from his surplus of goaltending talent with either Sam Brittain or Adam Murray for the Saturday night series finale.
“We’ve had this goaltending competition since the start of the season,” Gwozdecky said. “But we’re not sure which direction it’s going to take us because none of them have dropped off. They’ve all played pretty well.”
Olkinuora’s performance down the stretch came seemingly out of nowhere in a typical, hard-nosed contest between two teams that, after tomorrow, will have faced off 14 times in the last two-plus seasons.
What Dave Hakstol called a slow start turned into a 1-0 Denver advantage after 20 minutes. Chris Knowlton put a goal in off of a defender’s stick and past Clarke Saunders (18 saves) at 7:21, putting UND behind early.
“I didn’t think we were what we wanted to be out of the gates tonight,” Hakstol said.
North Dakota did make the adjustments it needed to, and 1:32 into the second, it got the tying goal when a rebound of a Jordan Schmaltz point shot fell to Rowney between the dots and he threw a changeup of sorts at the net, a slow roller that fooled the defensemen in front, as well as Olkinuora.
From there, the Finland native knew he had to bear down and keep his team in. He did.
“I kind of had to refocus there,” Olkinuora said. “I wish I had that goal back, but I’m happy with the way I played after that.”
The two teams then traded power-play goals, with Scott Mayfield’s point shot at 7:43 answered three minutes later by a gritty goal from Corban Knight down low.
But UND couldn’t finish the win, leaving a point on the ice despite having all the momentum in the third, as well as in the extra frame.
“We generated some opportunities and gave ourselves every chance,” Hakstol said. “Their guy in goal was real good tonight.”
‘Happy’ is perhaps too strong a word to describe the feeling after a tie, but Gwozdecky was pleased with the effort of his team, which was down to 10 forwards due to injuries and suspensions.
“I thought North Dakota found some holes in our game at times, but certainly considering some of the issues we’re dealing with in our lineup I was at least pleased that we battled very hard, although maybe our execution wasn’t that great.”
Gwozdecky and Hakstol will both hope to have better fates Saturday night in what figures to be yet another chapter in a memorable rivalry as of late.
“It just seems that every time these teams get together, it’s rare that one team dominates,” Gwozdecky says. “It happens on occasion, but it’s back and forth, it’s emotional, it’s intense, and many times dominated by outstanding goaltenders.”