DENVER — It’s either feast or famine for the No. 11 Denver Pioneers.
After a string of games in the last month of the first half in which Denver scored one or two goals in almost every contest, coincidentally losing most of them, the Pioneers offense again erupted against a ranked opponent. One week after Denver thrashed No. 6 Boston University 6-0, the Pioneers beat No. 12 Cornell 5-1 on Friday in front of 5,160 fans at Magness Arena. Quentin Shore scored two goals and his brother Nick pitched in another, while goaltender Juho Olkinuora made 37 saves.
“I think certainly you have to be pleased when you can beat a quality opponent like Cornell,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “They are a big, strong team, and we knew that coming in. Things kind of went our way early. We got the power-play goal to take the lead, and our power play was good. Cornell had their chances. Olkinuora continues to play very, very well.”
As is so often the case, the story of the first period between two evenly-matched teams was special teams. Specifically, Denver capitalized on its power play and Cornell failed to capitalize on two power-play opportunities. Denver grabbed the lead at 3:57 when Ty Loney took a shot on net from low on the right side. Andy Iles made the initial stop, but David Makowski followed up on the rebound. His shot hit Iles, then the post, then went back in the net off Iles’ hip.
“When you look back at those eight games we played in late November and early December, part of the reason we were struggling was because we didn’t want to physically engage a whole lot,” said Gwozdecky. “You have to pay a price, and it’s tiring. It’s physically tiring, fatiguing, and painful at times, and you have to be willing to do that to be successful.”
Meanwhile, Cornell had trouble generating quality shots on its two power plays, with many shots being taken from the perimeter. The closest Cornell came to scoring was when Nick Shore, racing for a puck in his own end to beat a Cornell player, sent the puck to Olkinuora instead of the defenseman on the far side, and Olkinuora almost misplayed it when he tried to pass it out.
“Their kid made some big saves to keep it ineffective,” said Cornell coach Mike Schafer of his team’s power play, which went 0-for-4 on the night. “The difference in the game is their goaltender played better than our goaltender, their power play played better than our power play, and their forwards capitalized on their chances and ours didn’t. We had two-on-ones, we had a breakaway, we had opportunities on the power play in the soft area, and we didn’t score.”
After escaping from a turnover in its own end, Denver quickly scored at 3:09 of the second when Matt Tabrum got the puck at the right point and fed a pass to Quentin Shore in the left circle. Shore spun back toward the net while firing a quick wrist shot the beat Iles high glove side.
Cornell got one back on a pretty play when John McCarron and Dustin Mowrey broke in two-on-one. McCarron passed to Mowrey on the right side of the slot, who immediately slid the puck back to McCarron as he hit the crease. He got a shot that stuck along the post, but as he crossed the goal line he dragged his stick and pulled the puck back and slid it home at 5:58.
Before Cornell could get an equalizer, the DU power play struck again when Shawn Ostrow got the puck in the right corner and slid it to Quentin Shore in the crease. While Shore fought off Reece Willcox and Erik Axell, he got a shot along the ice that beat Iles five-hole at 9:54.
“It was a good shot on net and luckily the rebound came out to me,” said Shore.
Denver made it a three-goal game after withstanding another penalty kill on a pretty play when Chris Knowlton intercepted a Cornell pass deep in his own end and skated to his blue line, springing Shawn Ostrow on a breakaway with a pass through the middle as Jacob MacDonald tried frantically to catch him. Ostow made a move to his backhand in the slot and beat Iles high stick side at 10:37.
“They have a good offensive team,” said Schafer of Denver. “When you’re down 3-1, you’re pressing offensively and your defense are jumping up in the play and they’re going to give up those opportunities. Their kid made a good play. Their kid snuck behind our defenseman and our other ‘D’ was jumping up the play looking for offense. That’s what happens.”
A penalty was called on the play, and on the ensuing power play, the Pioneers scored again when Nolan made a pass to Nick Shore, who one-timed a slap shot from the left circle pas Iles at 11:27.
“It’s awesome to see him get on the score sheet; I’m always happy,” said Nick’s brother Quentin. “I think the break over Christmas was really good for us. We also came back and had a different attitude toward the game, and so far we’ve kept up that attitude, and hopefully we can keep that up the second half of the year.”