OMAHA, Neb. – It’s not very often Denver backup goaltender Evan Cowley sees playing time. In fact, the only game he’d appeared in coming into Saturday was way back on Oct. 19.
When Pioneers coach Jim Montgomery gave him the nod Saturday, however, partly to send the rest of his team a message to stop relying as heavily on usual starter Sam Brittain, the seldom-used Cowley came up huge.
After getting only two NCHC points out of the six on offer a week ago at St. Cloud State, DU stumbled again Friday in a 4-2 loss. Cowley was the difference in the rematch, though, making 33 saves en route to a 4-1 win for the No. 18 Pioneers.
Denver’s first regulation win since Jan. 25 saw the Pioneers’ record rise to 14-10-6 overall and 8-7-3-2 in the NCHC. UNO fell to 12-14-2 and 9-7-2-1 in the league.
“I thought it was a good effort from our student-athletes for 60 minutes,” DU coach Jim Montgomery said. “(UNO) still had their opportunities and they’re going to because they have a dynamic offense, but we kept their chances and opportunities to the outside.
“We weren’t giving up breakaways and two-on-ones, and because of that, I think we created a lot of odd-man rushes the other way and had several that we didn’t get shots on net on, and that’ll happen with a young team, but it’s exciting to see our boys play so hard for 60 minutes.”
The Pioneers opened the scoring Saturday for their third game running. On Saturday, DU defenseman Nolan Zajac gave DU its first lead of the night 15:55 into the game by beating from just outside the crease sprawling UNO goaltender Kirk Thompson to his stick-hand side.
UNO equalized at 3:19 of Saturday’s middle frame when defenseman Nick Seeler got a step up on Pioneers forward Emil Romig down the right wing before cutting in and beating Cowley stick-side.
Whereas the Mavericks had scored two goals 16 seconds apart in Friday’s second period to take a 2-1 lead, the same didn’t happen again in the series finale.
Instead, DU forward Trevor Moore picked up his 12th goal of the season and Saturday’s eventual game-winner at 14:57 of the same period. It was an odd goal, with Daniel Doremus flipping the puck up behind Thompson’s net before the puck deflected off a UNO player out to the front, where Moore swatted the puck home underneath the bar.
The Pioneers then picked up insurance goals in the third period from forward Matt Marcinew at 4:41 and an empty-netter from defenseman Josiah Didier at 18:50.
“When you’ve got two All-Americans out of the lineup, there’s a natural tendency to think, ‘We beat them last night with them, we should be able to beat them easier tonight without them,’” Blais said after the game, noting that Denver was also without defenseman Joey LaLeggia, who left Friday’s game in the second period with an injured arm.
“Not the case. Denver is a good hockey team, and its want and battle level was real good tonight. Not that we let up or anything.”
The win was a collegiate first for Cowley, a 2013 fourth-round draft pick of the NHL’s Florida Panthers, the same club that drafted Brittain in the same round of the 2010 draft.
Cowley said after the game that, despite rarely getting into games so far in his time with the Pioneers, he made a point of treating Saturday’s tilt like he would any other game.
“I’ve played in (situations like this) before, and (the preparation) is nothing new,” Cowley said. “You just try to stick to your routine and I think I’ve done a good job of getting into routines and sticking to that this year and making sure I was prepared, so it was just a normal game day and I treated it like any other.”
“He had a great week of practice, and we’ve always said that if you practice well, you’re going to get an opportunity to play,” Montgomery said.
“Part of it was we thought our team was relying too much on Sam, and we needed to play with a little more vinegar out there and a little more sandpaper, and I think we did that, but Evan had to make several big saves and he controlled rebounds extremely well for us.”
What was most important for the Pioneers Saturday though, was picking up three important points. Now the challenge will be to climb even further up the NCHC ladder and not fall back into the bottom half, which would mean going on the road in the first round of the league playoffs.
“In this division, points are so hard to come by, and every three points and every game are huge,” Cowley said. “We’re trying to scrap for every point we can get, and winning tonight was big, and the boys are fired up about it.”