As his Denver teammates battled through a hard-fought game to the win of their lives, Thursday’s hero stood in the runway of Section 5 at the FleetCenter, bouncing around, yelling, encouraging, agonizing.
After scoring the game-winning goal in the semifinal against Minnesota-Duluth, Lukas Dora made the mistake of his life, breaking a team rule some time Friday night. Denver coach George Gwozdecky did not hesitate to suspend Dora, a dynamic senior and key member of the power play, even as the Pioneers were on the cusp of the program’s biggest moment in 35 years.
It was an agonizing day for Dora, the team’s third-leading scorer, but in the euphoria of Denver’s post-game celebration, there was Dora, leading the charge. Nothing was bitter; it was all sweet.
“It feels unbelievable,” Dora said. “Hey, I played every single game until [Saturday]. It doesn’t matter. For me, it’s just another game. It’s not a national championship game; it’s just another game we had to win.”
Nobody felt like divulging much about whatever the incident was that led to the suspension. But whatever it was, it was not something Dora was worrying about anymore.
“I broke a team policy. I couldn’t play. It wasn’t my call — but I broke a team policy, that’s all,” Dora said.
“It was hard, it was painful, but I cannot say anything because this is the best feeling in my life. These guys did a great job for me, and they gave this game to me. And I’m very proud of every guy who stepped on this ice tonight.”
Dora said he tried to talk Gwozdecky into changing his mind.
“I did talk to him pretty much the whole day, because I wanted to play pretty badly,” said Dora. “But I knew, this team, it doesn’t matter who plays and who doesn’t play. This team, there’s 27 guys and anyone can play. We did it as a team again. We do it week in and week out.
“Yeah, I do regret what happened, but what can you do, you know? What can you do? I don’t know. People make mistakes in their life and that’s what I did. And I guess I paid for it tonight. But it doesn’t matter. I played all the games and these guys know that, and they dedicated this game to me, because they played for me.”
The potential turmoil didn’t seem to faze Denver one iota. Surely, Gwozdecky handled the incident with his usual grace, did what he had to do, and everyone moved on to getting done the job that was at hand.
Gwozdecky said the team reacted the same way they had all year through all sorts of adversity, such as injuries, stretches of bad play, and other team suspensions. It was a sentiment echoed by Denver assistant captain Connor James.
“This team’s been through adversity all year,” James said. “We’ve been up and down and guys have been hurt and out, and that’s just what this team is, the underdog that keeps plugging away.”
Afterwards, Dora and Gwozdecky embraced, with no hard feelings whatsoever.
“I said I love him,” Dora said of his coach. “He made me the player I am and I appreciate everything he has done in my life the last four years.”