COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Perhaps it was only fitting that after so many historic games between arch-rivals Denver and Colorado College, the two would create another. In front of an announced crowd of 7,696 at World Arena in Colorado Springs, the Denver Pioneers captured a 2-1 shootout victory over CC. It was the first shootout in the NCHC. Nationally, the game will count as a tie, but Denver picks up an extra point in the NCHC standings.
For Denver, the game felt like an important step after suffering four 3-2 overtime losses this season, including two last weekend against Nebraska-Omaha.
“I really like the way we played in the last 35 minutes; I thought we took over the game,” said Denver coach Jim Montgomery. “I thought they took the game to us in the first 25 minutes. It was nice to see them respond, because I challenged them after the first period, as you can probably tell by my voice right now. The shootout, it’s a tie for what we want to be about, but it’s nice because of momentum.”
Much of the first period was a defensive battle, despite the Tigers having two power plays. In fact, near the 10-minute mark, the shots on goal was only 2-1 in favor of CC. It looked like the period would remain scoreless, but during a long Denver shift late in the period, the Tigers struck first when Alexander Krushelnyski pounced on a rebound near the goal line and, from almost an impossible angle, beat Sam Brittain at 17:40.
Denver came out with much better pressure in the second period, notching 10 shots, but aside from a couple of flurries, the Pioneers couldn’t sustain anything. At the other end, Brittain was tested a few times during 1:08 of a five-on-three advantage for the Tigers, making a couple of stops in close to keep the Pioneers within one.
“It lived up to its billing of both teams having trouble scoring,” said Tigers coach Scott Owens. “They are good defensively and Sam Brittain is a very good goaltender, and I thought Josh was very good. I think the difference was our inability to get it 2-0 on the power play. We had a couple of chances in the first, and we had two in the second, including one minute of five-on-three. We’re getting better, but we’re not finishing. If you make that game 2-0 here in World Arena, you probably still have to battle those guys to the very end, but at least two goals in a game like this is a big deal. Nobody lost in overtime, so at least that’s a good thing.”
In the third, both teams had solid chances. Thorimbert robbed Daniel Doremus from the slot, and later in the period during a delayed call, Thorimbert’s quick glove robbed Quentin Shore’s chance on a partial breakaway.
At the other end, Krushelnyski couldn’t get to a loose puck in the crease before Brittain covered it. With about three minutes left, Charlie Taft made a nifty move to beat a Denver defender, but Brittain made a big pad save on Taft’s point-blank chance. Brittain also denied Taft’s rebound try on the doorstep with under two minutes left.
With 1:46 left to play and a faceoff coming in the CC zone, Montgomery called timeout and pulled Brittain. The gambit paid off, as Denver won the draw and controlled the puck. Ty Loney got it in the left corner and passed it through the crease to Joey LaLeggia in the bottom of the right circle. LaLeggia had open net top shelf to fire it in and tie the game at 18:38.
“That’s the second time that I’ve had a goal where Ty Loney has made an unbelievable play,” said LaLeggia. “For him to have the poise and composure to have his head up and find me on the back door like that was just a great play by him.”
“We were telling them what we were trying to do, whose responsibilities were which quadrants of the ice, and what we were trying to look for after the faceoff,” said Montgomery of the timeout. “It was great. We got pressure and caused a turnover and 27 made a nice play to 12, and Ty Loney made a great pass on the backdoor to Joey.”
In the overtime, Denver tilted the play to its offensive zone, but Thorimbert held strong against a couple of furious flurries to set up the shootout.
In the shootout, CC went first. Taft skated down the slot and deked to Brittain’s right, but his shot went over the cross bar. LaLeggia went first for Denver, skating down the slot and beating Thorimbert with a quick wrist shot stick side. Second for CC was Krushelnyski, who tried to deke to his backhand and lift it over Brittain, but Brittain got his left pad out. With a chance to win it, Pioneers captain David Makowski skated in and beat Thorimbert glove side with a wrist shot, setting off a Denver celebration.
“We didn’t talk about much,” said LaLeggia of the break before the shootout. “We felt we really deserved that game. The last 30 minutes, we really battled hard, and it was nice to get rewarded.”