DENVER — In a game that featured lots of shots and back and forth action, the No. 10 Denver Pioneers edged No. 6 North Dakota, 5-4. Juho Olkinuora made 35 saves, and Denver launched 41 shots at two North Dakota netminders.
“Any time you win in this league, I think you have to first of all look at your work ethic, and I thought we worked very hard tonight,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “I thought we were ready to expend a lot of energy, and we did. We made it tough on ourselves. Certainly Olkinoura was outstanding. Obviously pleased with the win.”
The first period was a tale of two different games. North Dakota carried the play early, but Denver dominated the last half of the period.
An aggressive North Dakota forecheck drew two early power plays. While North Dakota didn’t actually score a power-play goal, they might as well have. Just after Paul Phillips got out of the box, North Dakota kept the puck in the zone on a tired Denver defense. First Phillips, then Scott Mayfield, failed to clear the zone. Nick Mattson intercepted Mayfield’s clearing attempt at the left point, then backhanded a pass to Rocco Grimaldi, who unleashed a slap shot that beat Olkinuora far side at 2:59.
North Dakota continued to dominate the first six minutes, looking much faster than Denver, but everything changed on a harmless looking play when Zac Larraza got the puck on the left side boards near the faceoff circle and turned and wristed the puck on net, beating Zane Gothberg at 5:48.
The second period started much like the first, as North Dakota came out flying and quickly capitalized when Carter Rowney picked up a rebound in the slot and shot it past Olkinuora at 1:08.
The lead again didn’t last long, as Denver finally capitalized on a power play when Chris Knowlton’s shot from the right point beat a screened Gothberg. The announcer was still calling the goal when Denver took the lead, as Daniel Doremus’ harmless-looking shot from the right side boards beat Gothberg five-hole.
“Sloppy play,” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. “That’s my only comment. I thought we were a very sloppy hockey team tonight. It cost us an opportunity and a point. Our play just wasn’t crisp and sharp.
That was all on the night for Gothberg, as he was replaced by Clarke Saunders, who was immediately tested when Denver broke in two-on-one while short-handed. Sanders made the save, and then Olkinuora made his own strong save, sliding his pad over to deny Corban Knight’s look at an open net from the left post.
That save loomed large when North Dakota took a penalty at the end of the play. After Denver got its player back and went on a power play, Joey LaLeggia ripped a wrist shot from the middle of the blue line that beat Sanders low stick side.
North Dakota finally capitalized on its own power play near the midway point of the period when Knight’s rifle one-timer from the left faceoff dot beat Olkinuora at 9:22.
North Dakota had an excellent chance to tie it late when Knight fed a perfect pass to an open Danny Kristo in the slot, but Olkinuora just got his pad out to stop Kristo’s redirect attempt.
Early in the third period, North Dakota thought it had tied the game when Brendan O’Donnell beat Olkinuora with a wrist shot just inside the blue line, but the goal was immediately called off as the play was offside. Moments later, Ty Loney made a move and beat Saunders in the slot, but he lost control of the puck as he was skating by Saunders and couldn’t backhand it into the open net.
However, at 3:45, Nick Shore gave Denver its two-goal lead back when he got to a rebound of a Knowlton shot at the right post and batted it in top corner as he was falling down on the ice.
“We just got the puck up deep, and Danny (Doremus) made a great play there getting the puck loose; moved it over to Chris and thought he was going to score, but crashed the net and got lucky there,” said Shore.
Near the midway point of the third, Denver went on a power play, but instead it was North Dakota who scored. Off a Ty Loney turnover at the North Dakota blue line, Knight and Kristo raced up two-on-one. Knight fed Kristo, and he buried a quick shot at 8:29.
From there, Denver desperately held off North Dakota’s offense, diving for loose pucks and blocking shots.