The No. 9 Denver Pioneers may have rediscovered their offense. Five different Pioneers had multiple-point nights as the Pioneers thrashed the Colgate Raiders 6-1 in front of 5002 fans at Magness Arena.
“It was more about ourselves tonight,” said Tyler Ruegsegger, who scored two goals, including the game-winner. “We came off a good win against Minnesota. We see when we work hard and hustle, good things come. It was good to keep the momentum going.”
Denver didn’t wait long to strike. After Rhett Rakhshani used his speed to get behind the Raiders’ defense and drew a penalty, Ruegsegger scored at just 2:21 of the period. Stationed at the left point, Ruegsegger got a pass from Tyler Bozak and skated into the top of the slot, where he ripped a wrist shot top corner glove side past Raiders’ goalie Charles Long.
“I think it was important that we got the first goal,” said Ruegsegger. “I got it and kind of moved to the middle there. I saw the forward wasn’t sliding with me and I saw a screen in front of the net. I saw both sides of the net, both posts, went for one of them and got lucky.”
DU’s lead didn’t hold up for very long. Some sloppy play in their defensive zone let Tom Riley get the puck from out behind the Pioneers’ net and feed David McIntyre in the right circle. McIntyre stepped up and ripped a shot low stick side past Cheverie at 4:47.
“We weren’t happy about that; after we got the first goal, they came right back and scored,” said Ruegsegger. “It was important to get the second goal and build off that.”
On the next play after the faceoff, Bozak raced down into the Raiders’ zone and split the defense, drawing a penalty on Corbin McPherson for hooking. On the ensuing power play, Ruegsegger got his second of the night on a highlight reel goal. Bozak took the puck just inside the blue line on the right side boards and stopped, waiting for Anthony Maiani to race into the zone two-on-one with Ruegsegger. Bozak fed Maiani, and Maiani and Ruegsegger sped down low. Maiani lifted a pretty backhand pass to Ruegsegger, who one-timed it into the open net at 5:53.
“The play started with them on a two-on-two rush, and both of their guys got stuck down low, and we had a three-on-two,” said Maiani. “I gave it up to Bozak, thinking it would be a two-on-one with him and Ruegsegger, but he slowed down and waited for me (laughs). He dropped it to me and me and Ruegsegger had a two-on-one and I fed him the pass and he got the shot off.”
Denver continued to dominate the play, keeping the Raiders pinned in their defensive zone for large stretches and using their superior speed to pepper Long. Kyle Ostrow made it 3-1 at 8:41 off a pretty passing play by Joe Colborne, who carried the puck down low and fed it between a Raiders’ defender’s legs to Ostrow streaking down into the slot. Ostrow one-timed it stick side.
Even when the Pioneers made the occasional gaff in their zone, the Raiders couldn’t do anything. Pioneers’ defenseman Chris Nutini tried an ill-advised backhand pass as he skated back towards Cheverie, and the puck dribbled off his stick to Austin Smith, who raced in alone and promptly shot it 10 feet wide.
“The first period was certainly not one of our better periods, but you have to give them credit,” said Raiders’ coach Don Vaughan. “We knew they could skate. They had three power-play goals in my opinion. We’d like to have our first period back; we weren’t ready to play, and that’s disappointing.”
The Pioneers made it 4-1 on what might as well have been a power-play goal, as a penalty expired moments before the Pioneers scored. Patrick Wiercioch, standing at the left point, took a pass from Maiani, took one step in towards the goal and fired a wrist shot low stick side that beat Long at 15:51.
“It’s a good thing to get our confidence back on the power play,” said Maiani.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that having Patrick Wiercioch back in the lineup allows us to function a little more efficiently on the power play,” said Pioneers’ coach George Gwozdecky. “He’s proved again to be a valuable asset to our power play. I thought we moved the puck pretty well. It was good to have our power play get us on the board and get us a lead early.”
That was all on the night for Long, who was replaced by freshman Alex Evin.
The Pioneers continued the offensive onslaught early in the second. Patrick Mullen got a tip of a Cody Brookwell shot past Evin at 4:11.
“I think it can be easy to lull yourself to sleep,” said Ruegsegger. “When you get a two or three goal lead, it can be easy to sit back and not play your game. There were times when we did that tonight. We weren’t happy with ourselves, but we got back in a rhythm.”
Colgate’s offensive woes continued. At times, the puck just wouldn’t bounce their way. Midway through the period, Cheverie made a stop and the rebound bounced up into the air and fell behind him, lying six inches from the goal line. Before any Raiders could get near it, Denver cleared the puck and Bozak raced the other way, nearly scoring on a breakaway.
“I thought we generated some scoring chances,” said Vaughan. “We clearly didn’t finish them. We knew we’d have our hands full tonight, but I’m disappointed we didn’t come out of the gate in the first period.”
Late in the period, the Raiders had their best chance to get another goal when Riley got the puck right on the left post, but he couldn’t lift it past Cheverie, who stayed square to the shooter.
“I think there were times where it might have been a little too easy,” said Gwozdecky. “We got away with some things that we don’t normally get away with and all of a sudden as a result you start getting sloppy, start taking shortcuts, and it kind of compounds itself. We talked about that in the second intermission.”
As the Raiders’ offensive struggles continued, the game got a little chippy, with both teams engaging in after-the-whistle antics, including four penalties, two per side, issued for a scrum at the 18:05 mark of the second.
Luke Salazar capped the scoring for the Pioneers at 16:22 of the third. Wiercioch set the play up, skating down the left side boards and sending a cross-crease pass to Salazar on the right post, who had a wide-open net to tap the puck into.
Next up for the Pioneers are the high-flying, undefeated Air Force Falcons in the Pioneers’ last home game of 2008. The Pioneers haven’t forgotten what the Falcons did to them last year at the Cadet Ice Arena, a 5-2 win for the Falcons.
“They beat us bad last year and they’re going to come here tomorrow night and try and beat us again,” said Ruegsegger of Air Force. “We know how good they are and they work extremely hard. We’re going to have to be ready for them, be on our game and playing our best hockey.”
“If there were doubters going into tonight’s game about how good Air Force is, I think a lot of those doubters are believers now,” said Gwozdecky. “I think for the first time ever, and I think people chuckled when I talked about this earlier in the week, I think we’re the underdogs. Air Force has been dominant. We talked after the game. As soon as I finished my remarks about Colgate, I talked to the team about last year, and reminded them of how they took us apart. They really shellacked us, and they’re a better team this year than last year. Only our best can give us a chance.”