Once again, the arch-rivals from Colorado were only able to battle to a tie. Trailing 1-0 late in the third, No. 13 Colorado College got a goal from Chad Rau to secure a tie with No. 5 Denver. Both Tigers’ netminder Richard Bachman and Pioneers’ goalie Marc Cheverie were outstanding in net.
CC carried the better of the play early, getting several good chances on Cheverie in the first few minutes. Mike Testwuide had a chance with an open net on the left post, but Joe Colborne tied him up as the puck hopped over his stick. Shortly after that, while on a power play, Gabe Guentzel came down the slot with an open lane, but Cheverie made the stop.
“I thought we played very sloppy and careless, and at times disinterested,” said Pioneers’ coach George Gwozdecky of the first period. “I was not happy with our performance, other than Marc Cheverie, who saved our bacon time and time again.”
Denver’s fourth line of Matt Glasser, Julian Marcuzzi and Brandon Vossberg was its most effective in the early going, getting several good chances. Glasser had a shot that he partially fanned on from the right side of the slot, and Vossberg charged the left post hard, almost getting a pass back to Glasser for a golden chance.
“They played well,” said Gwozdecky of his fourth line. “They didn’t have a lot of ice time, but all three of them did a very good job.”
A series of penalties on both teams changed the pace midway through the period. CC had a five-on-three power play for over a minute, but were unable to convert. The Tigers kept trying to get a forward moving through the crease for a tip, but the Pioneers’ penalty killers, particularly Cody Brookwell, kept sticks in the passing lanes.
“They were very aggressive on the penalty kill, and they were disrupting us like crazy,” said CC coach Scott Owens. “We couldn’t get the puck settled down and we couldn’t get consistent shots. When we did get stuff at the point, they were blocking them.”
Late in the period, CC had a great chance on a wild scramble in front off a turnover, with both Mike Testwuide and Andreas Vlassopoulos getting point blank chances on Cheverie, who finished the period with 13 saves.
At the other end, Bachman was equally strong, robbing Vossberg on a great wrist shot and standing strong on several blasts from the point by Patrick Wiercioch and J.P. Testwuide.
“His numbers are unbelievable,” said Owens of Bachman. “He was focused, controlling rebounds, battling, competing. We gave up a lot of high grade shots and he competed for us. They bring out the best in him.”
After killing off a penalty to start the second, Denver had a chance to net the first goal when Rhett Rakhshani joined a rush out of the penalty box. The puck came to Tyler Ruegsegger in the slot, and he blasted a shot off the crossbar.
On an ensuing Denver power play, Rau broke up ice two-on-one and rifled a shot from the left circle that Cheverie stopped.
The play opened up from there. Denver had a golden chance when Jesse Martin, coming up the right side, made a beautiful pass to Kyle Ostrow in the slot. Ostrow had an open net, but his shot looked like it deflected off a Tigers’ skate and went wide. Right after that, Dustin Jackson almost scored on a partial breakaway, cutting across the crease on a rush and backhanding it wide.
With the number of penalties being called, special teams were a key, and it was Denver who capitalized first on a beautiful tic-tac-toe play. Luke Salazar carried the puck down the slot and fed Anthony Maiani at the left post. Maiani slid a pass back across to Ostrow near the right post, and Ostrow one-timed the pass top shelf short side past Bachman at 10:07.
Denver almost increased their lead to two at the end of the period when J.P. Testwuide carried the puck down the slot and fed Salazar at the left post. Salazar tried to feed Ruegsegger at the far side post, but Ruegsegger was unable to get his stick on it.
Denver had another chance early in the third when Brian Gifford got behind the Tigers’ defense and had a tip in try, but Bachman made the save.
At the 11:29 mark of the third, the Tigers got a golden chance to tie the game when Vossberg was called for a five-minute major for checking-from-behind. Vossberg also got a game misconduct.
Right off the first faceoff, the Pioneers had the best scoring chance when Wiercioch made a rush down the left board and charged hard to the net with Bachman sprawling to get back, but the angle was too sharp for Wiercioch to tuck the puck past.
The Pioneers were very aggressive on the penalty kill, blocking shots with abandon and effectively keeping the Tigers to the perimeter. When CC did get a good chance, Cheverie made the save, and the Pioneers killed the penalty.
With time winding down and momentum from the kill, the Pioneers looked set to claim their first win against CC in the last six games against them, but at the 18:23 mark, Ryan Lowery slid a pass to Rau in the left circle, and he rifled it past Cheverie.
“I thought Denver was very good tonight, and their goaltender was outstanding,” Owens said. “We’re playing pretty well right now, and that’s a pretty good hockey club. We’re 1-0-3 against them this year.”
“They made a great play to tie it up at the end, but I think battling through the five-minute major like we did, I thought we did a terrific job,” said Gwozdecky. “I really felt we were on our way to winning that game and perhaps deserved a little better.”
In the OT, the Tigers had more shots, but the Pioneers had the best chance late when Rakhshani rushed down the left boards with an open shooting lane. However, he tried to feed Ruegsegger back in the slot through traffic, and though Bachman was down on the ice, the puck dribbled back left out of harm’s way.
“They’re playing for their lives,” said J.P. Testwuide. “They’re on the bubble right now, and they worked hard. Give them credit. They hung in there and got that late goal.”
With a tie getting them nothing, Owens elected to pull Bachman with 20 seconds left to try for the win, but the Tigers couldn’t get any good chances, something he admitted he’d never done before.
“You have mixed emotions. We’re playing an arch-rival. For us, we wanted to try for third place, but we also knew there could be a downside; if we lost, we could lose in the PairWise.”
Next weekend, the Tigers will host Minnesota-Duluth while Denver hosts Alaska-Anchorage. In the last meeting between the Seawolves and Pioneers, Anchorage rallied from a two-goal deficit to win in OT.
“We definitely have unfinished business,” said J.P. Testwuide. “They’re a good team, and anybody in this league can beat anybody at any time, so we’re not going to take them lightly.”