No. 1 and done
No. 1 Denver ends Michigan Tech’s season with 5-2 victory in NCAA Tournament
CINCINNATI — In a span of a little over 15 minutes Saturday, the No. 1 Denver Pioneers showed why they were the top-seeded team not only in the Midwest, but also the entire NCAA Tournament when they struck four times in a stretch of 10 minutes, 16 seconds en route to a 5-2 victory over the No. 19 Michigan Tech Huskies.
Coming into the contest, there was little statistically that separated the two teams. In the opening 13 minutes, the difference could not have been more clear as the Pioneers earned three power plays over that span and scored twice.
After that, a turnover by goaltender Angus Redmond and an inadvertent tip by a Huskies defender put the Pioneers ahead for good before the Huskies had four shots on goal.
According to Huskies coach Mel Pearson, the first period could not have gone much worse.
“We took a penalty three minutes in,” said Pearson. “We took another one seven minutes in and another one 11 minutes in. You just cannot do that against a good team. We lost our best penalty killer. Once we lost him we did not do very well.”
The Huskies were without assistant captain Michael Neville, whose line started the game, after he chased down a puck in the offensive zone, collided with a member of the Pioneers’ defense and left the game with an injury no more than 30 seconds into the game.
With Neville out — who was a key part of the Huskies’ penalty kill along with assistant captain Reid Sturos — the Pioneers were able to take advantage of their power plays despite multiple poor zone entries throughout the opening frame.
As captain Cliff Watson’s early penalty was coming to an end, the Huskies fell behind when the Pioneers’ Colin Staub tipped a shot from Adam Plant past Redmond at 4:42.
Staub’s second goal of the night came 8:03 later when Michael Davies’ shot from near the right point was stopped by Redmond, but the rebound bounced to where Staub could get to it.
If that was where it ended, the Huskies might have been able to work their way back in. Instead, that was when things took a turn for the worse.
The next two Denver goals were scored by hard work by some of their seniors.
The first came at 14:51. Redmond went behind his net to play a dump-in by the Pioneers in much the same way he had against Bowling Green in the WCHA Championship game. Similar to that game, his attempted pass hit a Pioneers’ forward in Evan Ritt. While Ritt did not score on the play, he did redirect the puck out in front of the net, where Huskies defender Matt Roy could not corral it before Emil Romig knocked it home.
Still reeling from that goal, the Huskies gave up another just 35 seconds later when Pioneers captain Will Butcher wired a wrist shot off a faceoff to Redmond’s left that hit a Huskies defender and bounced past Redmond.
Pioneers coach Jim Montgomery was pleased to see that his team’s veterans came ready to play.
“It was a great start by our group, and you could tell by our seniors and juniors that we’ve been here before by the way we were aggressive to start the game,” said Montgomery. “Then we saw why Michigan Tech is a really good hockey team because they came out hard in the second period.”
Redmond was called upon to keep the Huskies from falling any farther behind, and he did so when challenged by Denver’s Dylan Gambrell and Troy Terry in the last two minutes of the opening frame.
After the disappointing opening period, the Huskies needed a better start to the second.
They nearly got it off the stick of winger Jake Jackson.
Winger Chris Leibinger, who had replaced Neville at center, moved the puck quickly to Jackson to initiate a breakout in the opening minute of the period. Jackson flew down the ice, made a move around a Pioneers’ defender and skated in alone on Denver goaltender Tanner Jaillet. Jaillet laid out and kicked his left leg out to keep Jackson’s backhand from beating him.
The Pioneers extended their lead to five when Tyson McLellan — son of Edmonton Oilers coach Todd McLellan — knocked a rebound past Redmond at 6:26.
Rather than quit, the Huskies continued to battle, and their efforts finally paid off when they were awarded their only power play of the night at 13:07. With Denver’s top scorer, Henrik Borgstrom, off for tripping, the Huskies’ power play got to work. A pair of freshman came together to help the Huskies get on the board when defenseman Mitch Reinke fed the puck from the left point to winger Gavin Gould in the right circle. Gould shifted and fired a wrister that slid underneath Jaillet and in at 14:04.
Gould, who scored his sixth goal in seven playoff games, gained a lot of experience throughout the experience.
“The experience of the older guys on this team has helped us a long way,” said Gould. “It’s really nice to have that experience to calm your nerves. It really builds you as a player.”
The Huskies had two great chances to strike again when Jackson set up winger Tyler Heinonen and Sturos for two scoring chances in close to Jaillet, but neither play worked out as planned.
Michigan Tech did score their second goal of the period in the dying seconds of the period when winger Joel L’Esperance won a draw backward and Lucchini pounced on it. He circled to the left boards and wired a wrist shot that beat Jaillet and the right post at 19:55.
For Lucchini, playing in the NCAA Tournament after the team did not qualify last season was important.
“For me, not getting here last year played a role in where we got this year,” said Lucchini. “Hopefully next year we can take another step forward and hopefully make it to the Frozen Four.”
The Huskies had two quality scoring chances in the third period, but neither L’Esperance nor Heinonen could beat Jaillet or the goal post.
Michigan Tech 0 2 0 – 2
Denver 4 1 0 – 5
1, DU, Colin Staub (Adam Plant, Michael Davies), PP, 4:22
2, DU, Staub (Davies), PP, 12:45
3, DU, Emil Romig (Evan Ritt), 14:51
4, DU, Will Butcher (Gambrell), 15:26
5, DU, Tyson McLellan (Liam Finlay, Henrik Borgstrom), 6:26
6, MTU, Gavin Gould (Mitch Reinke, Shane Hanna), PP, 14:04
7, MTU, Jake Lucchini (Joel L’Esperance, Jake Jackson), 19:55
MTU, Redmond 13 10 6 – 29
DU, Jaillet 5 6 5 – 16
MTU: 5/10; DU: 2/4
MTU: 1/1; DU: 2/4