DENVER — In a wild, up-and-down game where both teams scored a power-play goal and a short-handed goal, the No. 9 Denver Pioneers beat the No. 13 Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, 7-4. Zac Larraza scored two goals in the third, including the game-winner, and added an assist, and Matt Tabrum also scored two and added an assist, while Juho Olkinuora made 42 saves.
It’s was Denver’s fourth consecutive win over a ranked opponent, something the Pioneers haven’t done since 2007-2008, and the first time since 2004 that they have won four straight over teams in the top 13. In 2004, those wins came to close the season en route to the NCAA title.
“I will say that I thought we made things very difficult on ourselves,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “We turned the puck over, we had 100 percent of it, we turned the puck over more times tonight than I can ever recall. Against a great offensive team, like UNO, there’s a reason they outshot us two-to-one. That first period, we were a turnover machine.”
Denver struck early, scoring at the 2:29 mark on a beautiful power-play goal. Standing in the left faceoff circle, Nolan Zajac got a pass from Nick Shore at the left point and then spied David Makowski on the far post. Zajac fed a perfect pass through the crease to Makowski, who banged it into the open net.
After generating some strong chances in the offensive zone, it appeared Nebraska-Omaha was in a good position to tie it when it went on a power play, but instead, the Pioneers got a short-handed goal when Tabrum got sprung on a breakaway up the right side boards. Tabrum cut to his backhand and lifted the puck over the outstretched right pad of John Faulkner at 8:41.
Denver almost made it 3-0 early in the second when Ty Loney rang a rocket off the crossbar on the left side. The puck came straight down and hung on the goal line before being cleared by a Nebraska-Omaha skater.
That proved costly moments later when Ryan Walters took the puck away from Makowski at the blue line and raced up ice three-on-two, feeding a streaking Josh Archibald on the left side, who one-timed it in at 3:57.
However, before Denver could feel any pressure from the goal, they struck back just 14 seconds later when Larkin Jacobson dug the puck out along the left side boards and fed it to Quentin Shore, who beat Faulkner high stick side at 4:11.
Much of the rest of the period featured up and down action, but Nebraska-Omaha made it a one-goal game again late in the period when Andrej Sustr scored a power-play goal, beating Olkinuora with a shot from the right point.
However, just as they had earlier in the period, Denver struck back. With less than a minute to go in the period, Daniel Doremus dug the puck out in the left corner and got it to Zac Larraza in the left circle, who passed it over the Shawn Ostrow at the right side of the crease. Faulkner stopped Ostrow’s first shot, but Ostrow banged home the rebound with 29.4 seconds left in the second.
With a power play to start the third, Denver looked to be in the driver’s seat, but instead, Zahn Raubenheimer skated up the right side boards and let loose a sharply-angled shot. Olkinuora made the initial save, but Brent Gwidt banged home the rebound at the 25-second mark.
Nebraska-Omaha titled the ice in its favor afterward. Olkinuora made a save on a breakaway attempt by Gwidt. However, on a defensive zone turnover, the Mavericks tied the score when Matt White collected the puck on the right side boards and fed a wide-open Walters on the left side of the crease, who buried it at 12:14.
However, just as they had all game, Denver rebounded. First, Zac Larraza made a singular effort in skating up the middle of the ice from deep in his own zone, beating a Mavericks defenseman high in the slot, then finishing off the end-to-end rush by backhanding it past Faulkner at 13:46.
“They were giving me room all game, so I finally took one up,” said Larraza. “The guy stepped up on me and I just made a move around him and had a breakaway and buried a chance. He stepped up too early and I saw it coming, so I stepped to the middle.”
Larraza gave Denver back its two-goal lead minutes later when he picked up a rebound of a Joey LaLeggia shot in the right circle and buried it at 15:42.
“That was nice to put the seal on the game,” said Larraza. “Whatever helps the team. The goalie was on the other side of the net and the shot was going over there and somebody stopped and it bounced right to me. It was a lucky bounce, but it was nice to put it away.”
Tabrum capped the scoring with an empty-net goal with 2.9 seconds left while Denver was short-handed and the Mavericks had pulled their goaltender for a six-on-four advantage.
“I am proud of the way the team found a way to win, responded when things were looking their bleakest,” said Gwozdecky. “We beat a team that was extremely hot. There’s no question that there are a lot of silver linings in this crazy game we played tonight. I can sit here for an hour and critique our play and the things we did to create more and more issues for ourselves and make things more difficult for ourselves. At the same point in time, any time they scored, for example, how we responded so quickly was the key to the game without a doubt. That’s a great ingredient for a team like ours.”