DENVER — On Friday night, Denver defenseman Will Butcher served a coach-imposed one-game suspension for breaking “an obvious unwritten rule,” and captain Zac Larraza played his first game since injuring his clavicle during a preseason captain’s practice. In a tight defensive game against arch-rival Colorado College before 6,038 fans at Magness Arena in Denver Saturday night, those two scored big goals and goaltender Sam Brittain stopped 39 shots as the Pioneers edged CC, 2-1.
“It’s great to be back and finally score a goal in my second game, and get the win on the weekend,” said an obviously happy Larraza.
Both teams had good chances to get the first goal, as each had extended five-on-three power play time, but neither could execute. CC had 1:25 of five-on-three, while Denver had 42 seconds. While there were a lot of shots, most were from the outside, and Brittain and Josh Thorimbert were strong when they needed to be.
“Any time your penalty kill is over 90 percent like ours is, it’s because of your goaltender,” said Pioneers coach Jim Montgomery. “We’re doing a really good job with our PK forecheck. We’re winning a lot of faceoffs, but Sam made probably 16 great saves on the penalty kill tonight. That’s how you kill penalties.”
CC had the better offensive chances in the second period, in part because of the power play disparity. They had a five-minute major when Emil Romig was called for checking for behind, but aside from one or two opportunities, CC couldn’t get anything going. After the power play expired, an old-fashioned melee erupted in front of Brittain that involved everyone on the ice. In the end, three players from each team went to the box for roughing.
Later in the period, CC got another power play, but again couldn’t convert.
“I thought first of all, we played a pretty good game tonight,” said Tigers coach Scott Owens. “It was our best Saturday night in a while, but you’re right, we had nine and a half minutes of power play in the first 40 minutes and we couldn’t convert on the major and the five-on-three. A lot of it you can credit to Sam Brittain. Last night you can credit to Sam Brittain, tonight he made big saves on the five-on-three, the five-minute major, but at that point, we should have been up 2-0 in the game. Credit their penalty killing, credit their goaltending.”
Those missed power plays loomed large when Denver got a power play early in the third and immediately converted off the draw, as Trevor Moore got it back to Butcher, who skated toward the center of the blue line and beat Thorimbert with a quick wrist shot stick side at 1:29.
“Will is a great young man, and he comes from a great family,” said Montgomery. “The kid is wonderful to coach and work with, and I knew he would respond in a great way, and he did.”
Right after the goal, CC had a great chance to tie it when Charlie Taft hit the crossbar on a turnaround shot, and then Alexander Krushelnyski couldn’t get to the loose rebound in the crease.
Shortly thereafter, Denver again went on a power play. With time running down on the advantage, Larraza skated up the left side boards and made a drag move to get around Ian Young. Thorimbert made the initial stop, but Larraza drove the net and picked up the rebound near the goal line, batting it in at 7:04.
Brittain continued to play outstanding, making several big stops. When he robbed Alex Roos on a point-blank power-play chance from the slot, it seemed like Denver had it locked up, but shortly after that stop, Roos got another chance, beating Brittain with a quick shot from the left circle at 16:51.
CC poured on the pressure during the last few minutes, and during one melee that ended with players piled in the crease, Brittain lost his helmet. Owens pulled Thorimbert with just over a minute to go, but CC couldn’t get the equalizer.