DENVER – Playing at home in the back half of a home-and-home series with Air Force, the Denver Pioneers clearly wanted to get off to a better start than they did the previous night in Colorado Springs.
It must have been déjà vu for coach Jim Montgomery, as Sam Brittain was forced to make a nice sliding save on a partial breakaway by Air Force’s George Michalke just over half a minute into the game.
A tripping call on Denver’s David Makowski at 8:43 gave Air Force a power play, but Denver’s penalty kill was up to the task and limited the Falcons to just one shot in goal.
Air Force built some momentum after the power play and scored the game’s first goal with some great hustle. Brittain made a right pad save on a shot from the right boards by Dan Weissenhofer, and there was Michalke again fighting to keep the loose puck alive for teammate Max Hartner, who converted to the short side over Brittain’s blocker.
The Falcons kept the pressure on during another power play when Matt Tabrum was sent off for boarding at 14:31, but Brittain made several key stops on several top-of-the-crease chances for the Falcons.
A penalty to the Falcons’ Max Birkinbine for tripping at 18:02 gave the Pioneers a chance to level the score before the end of the period, and captain Zach Larraza obliged with just over 30 seconds remaining in the period. His wrister from the high slot beat Jason Torf over the glove off a great feed from Nolan Zajac. Joey Laleggia picked up the second assist and the period ended 1-1. The Falcons outshot the Pioneers 15-10 in the first 20 minutes.
Unlike the prior night where the Falcons scored in the first minute of the second period, the first four minutes were uneventful until the Falcons’ Ryan Timar went to the penalty box for boarding at 4:29. Once again, the Pioneers power play didn’t take much time to score. Trevor Moore scored from the bottom of the right circle off a great cross-ice pass from Daniel Doremus for a 2-1 Pioneers lead. Gabe Levin also assisted on Denver’s second power-play goal of the night.
Another penalty for Air Force at 5:40 to A.J. Reid gave another power-play opportunity to the home team, but they couldn’t find the man-up trifecta. Torf was the goalie being tested in the second period and he came up big on a break-in by Quentin Shore at 7:59 and followed that with a big right pad save off a blast from the point just under a minute later. The Pioneers continued to buzz the Falcons net, but couldn’t sneak anything through Torf’s pads.
Torf made perhaps his best series of saves at the 11:36 mark when he stopped a point shot labeled for the far corner and then made two stops on Denver’s Grant Arnold, holding his skate to the post and forcing a stoppage in play.
On a delayed penalty call to Air Force, Trevor Moore scored his second goal of the night, beating Torf high over his blocker from the top of the crease off a great pass from the goal line by Garrett Allen. The goal at 17:03 gave Denver a 3-1 lead.
Air Force killed off a penalty to Birkinbine to close out the period, but trailed by two goals after being outshot 18-7 in the second.
Both teams had chances early in the third but Torf and Brittain were both sharp in keeping the puck out of their nets. At 6:03, Daniel Doremus pulled down Hartner behind the Pioneers goal and the Falcons looked to close the gap on a power play. The Falcons had several shots blocked or deflected and at 8:03, Brittain came up with two big saves with his right pad and then his glove to thwart the Falcons final chances with the man advantage.
Torf robbed Shore on a deflection at 15:18 to keep the score just a two-goal deficit but the Falcons were running out of time and hadn’t been able to solve Brittain down the other end of the ice.
With over two minutes remaining, the Falcons pulled Torf for the extra attacker and had several chances that Brittain fended off before a scramble in front of the net led to marching penalties to DU’s Josiah Didier and Air Force’s Chad Demers at 18:29.
The matching penalties made it a five-on-four for the final 90 seconds as the Falcons continued to pressure with the extra attacker, but could not get their shots through to the net and the Pioneers skated off with the 3-1 win.