DENVER — In a game they had to win to have a shot at home ice in the WCHA playoffs, the Denver Pioneers used early goals in each period to rout Alaska-Anchorage, 7-1. Zac Larraza had two goals, while Ty Loney potted three assists.
“I was pleased with the effort, I was pleased with the execution,” said Denver coach George Gwozdecky. “Sometimes, the goaltender just robs you over and over again, and that was my fear. My concern is how the emotions swing in a game like this. You play really well, and you give a damn good effort in that first period … and you come up empty-handed. That can be frustrating.”
Playing on Senior Night, and knowing the importance of a win for WCHA positioning, Denver came out with a lot of jump, firing shots at will. Daniel Doremus got the Pioneers on the board at 3:13 when he let fly a quick wrist shot from the left circle. As he got the shot off, it went off the stick of Seawolves defender Ben Matthews and changed direction, beating Rob Gunderson five-hole.
Denver’s lead didn’t hold up for long, as Scott Allen got free skating through the crease and beat a stretching Juho Olkinuora with a backhand low at 4:40.
Though Denver dominated most of the first period, it wasn’t until the last 30 seconds that their hard work paid off. First, Nick Shore got a power-play goal when Ty Loney got the puck to him and he knocked it the open net with 28.6 seconds left. Right off the faceoff after the goal, Paul Phillips carried it down the left side boards and circled behind the net, getting the puck to Larraza on the far post, who knocked it in with 14 seconds left.
“That was really nice,” said Larraza. “That would have been a tough talk in intermission if we hadn’t scored those two goals, but it gave us confidence and we just rolled from there.”
With an early power play in the second, Alaska-Anchorage had a change to get back in the game, but Blake Leask coughed up the puck along the boards in his own zone and Larraza skated in alone, beating Gunderson at 4:08.
“We were just putting pucks on net, because we know this goalie’s not Juho Olkinuora,” said Larraza. “A couple lucky bounces went our way, but a lot of good goals, and that should give us confidence going into Sunday.”
Continuing to pour on the offense (Denver had a 34-12 SOG advantage after two periods), Matt Tabrum scored from the slot on a rebound of a Quentin Shore shot at 10:43.
In the third, Denver got another early goal when David Makowski ripped a slap shot top shelf at 1:11 to make it 6-1. Shawn Ostrow rounded out the scoring at 10:28 after Ty Loney backhanded the puck to him from behind the net, allowing Ostrow to tap it into the open net.
The win moved Denver into a three-way tie with Minnesota State and Wisconsin, with all three at the moment having home ice. Nebraska-Omaha is one point behind them in the race. Depending on what happens tomorrow and Sunday, when Denver plays the Seawolves again in a special 11 a.m. game, Denver could finish anywhere from fourth to seventh.
“That’s going to be unique, because as of Sunday 2 a.m., we turn the clock forward, so we’re really starting everybody, the players, the referees, the fans, the media, the broadcasters, it’s really a 10 a.m. start,” said Gwozdecky. “We’re going to call it the pajama game. We want everybody to roll out of bed into their cars in their pajamas and we’ll have hot cocoa and marshmallows.”