After a 5-2 domination over Michigan Tech on Saturday, the Denver Pioneers headed into today’s game with confidence. It served them well as they skated away with a convincing win over Penn State Nittany Lions.
The teams spent the first few minutes feeling each other out as this was the first time the teams have faced off. Just like yesterday’s game,though, the Pioneers got the scoring started. Dylan Gambrell carried the puck into the zone, protecting it up the right wall. He dumped it down low, past the first defender, to Troy Terry behind the net. Terry chipped it up to the crease where Jarid Lukosevicius was waiting to backhand it past Penn State’s Peyton Jones to give the Pioneers an early 1-0 lead.
The defense got into the action four minutes later off the stick of Adam Plant. Henrik Borgström pulled all eyes to him, as he often does, using his big frame in the corner to move the puck to the top of the circle. He left it for Plant who sent a wrister to the low corner. Liam Finlay picked up the second assist. It was Denver’s second shot on net, extending the lead to 2-0.
During a Pioneers power play, Nikita Pavlychev jumped on an errant bounce to create a two on one short-handed bid. Will Butcher was pulled to Ricky Derosa when Pavlychev faked a slap shot and sent the puck across the slot, but Derosa tipped it back to his partner. Tanner Jaillet was able to make the first stop, but Pavlychev jumped on the rebound to tap the puck into the net and cut the Pioneers’ lead in half. Denver finished out the power play, and the teams returned to five-on-five hockey with a 2-1 score in favor of Denver.
The Penn State goal changed the energy of the game, putting Denver on its heels a bit and increasing the chippiness between the players. Certainly, play balanced out between the two teams. Where Denver had been clearly dominating—if not by shots, then by physical presence and skilled playmaking—Penn State was now skating with the Pioneers and looking like a challenging foe. With less than 15 seconds left in the first period, Denver got another chance on the power play with Nate Sucese of Penn State called for interference. Denver was unable to convert and went into the second period with a 2-1 lead and a man advantage.
The middle frame started with Penn State leading Denver in shots 9-5, but Denver controlled the puck throughout the power play. Immediately after its expiration, though, it was the Nittany Lions that hit the back of the net. A patient toe drag by Denis Smirnov was supposed to send the puck across the crease to his teammate, but a sprawling Denver defender Michael Davies got in the way. The puck hit him and trickled past Jaillet, tying the game at two.
“Our whole focus was on our transition to defense. They are a talented team and they play a frenetic style of hockey. As soon as the puck’s turned over, they don’t have three guys going north, they have five guys going north…They’re a great team.” – Jim Montgomery, Denver Pioneers head coach
For the next few minutes, Denver was struggling to regain its composure, playing defense-first hockey instead of its signature attacking style. A commercial break seemed to settle the Pioneers, and Terry drew a roughing penalty. Penn State immediately got two short-handed bids before Borgström walked the puck into the offensive zone and slid a no-look pass over to Terry, who snapped the shot past Jones, restoring the Denver lead at 3-2.
Just past the halfway mark in the second period,Tyson McLellan was sent to the box for interference, giving Penn State its first power play of the game. While Penn State was able to put some pressure on Denver during the man advantage, the Pioneers’ speed to the puck proved to be the difference maker, and the score remained 3-2.
With 4:20 left in the period, Lukosevicius got his second of the night by breaking up a play with a sneaky stick lift as a Penn State breakout was just forming. Terry picked up the puck, settled it, and sent it back to Lukosevicius. The young forward went to one knee ans he rocketed the shot home for a 4-2 Pioneers lead.
One minute later, a battle behind the Denver net led to a Pioneers penalty against Plant (hooking), putting the Nittany Lions back on the power play. However, less than a minute into the man advantage, Dylan Richard batted away Tariq Hammond’s stick, earning him two minutes for interference. The teams played four on four for just over a minute. With the final seconds ticking off on Plant’s penalty, Borgström and Terry combined yet again for a fifth Denver goal. Terry dogged Kris Myllari, Borgström shed off a check and passed the puck back to Terry for the one-timer goal. The Lions’ penalty expired, and the teams went into the locker rooms with a 5-2 lead for Denver.
Twenty-six seconds into the third, Denver’s Hammond hit Chase Berger hard from behind and into the glass. Hammond was given a five-minute major, which resulted in a automatic match penalty. Fortunately, Berger was not injured on the play. It took over four minutes before Penn State was able to set up in the Denver zone as the Pioneers penalty killers were beating their opponents to the puck at every turn. In the end, Penn State was only able to get three shots on net during the five minutes, and Denver was able to go back onto the offensive with 14 minutes left in the third period.
While Penn State was unable to get the goal during the power play,continued hard work over the next seven minutes finally paid off with a Gobetz slapshot from the blueline at the 12:40 mark of the final period, bringing the score to 5-3. The goal sparked some energy in the Nittany Lions, and they began pushing the play more in the waning minutes of the game. After a review of a hit on Plant behind the night, ruled not deserving of a five minute major, Penn State’s Jones headed to the bench to give his team a six-on-five, empty net final three-and-a-half minutes.
It ended up biting Penn State as Terry recorded his first career hat trick by skating in the empty net goal. The Pioneers took the game with a 6-3 final score, earning a Frozen Four berth for the 15th time in school history and second consecutive under head coach Jim Montgomery.