Often, it’s the final period or periods that determine the outcome of a hockey game.
In Saturday night’s Wells Fargo Denver Cup championship game between the No. 5 University of Denver Pioneers and No. 3 Boston University Terriers, it was the opposite, as the Terriers got out to an early lead and never looked back, beating the Pioneers 4-1.
“How we started the game and how they started the game determined the outcome of the game, determined the outcome of the championship,” said Pioneers’ coach George Gwozdecky.
The Terriers controlled play early, gaining a 13-2 shot advantage over the Pioneers at one point. DU had the best early chance of the game about two minutes into the first period when Matt Glasser caught Terriers’ netminder Kieran Millan (33 saves) out of position, but Glasser’s shot rang off the left goalpost.
Still, it was the dominant Terriers who got on the board first 7:14 into the first period while playing four-on-four. Vinny Saponari took a home run pass from David Warsofsky and fired a shot from the right face-off dot that beat Pioneers’ goaltender Marc Cheverie (23 saves) stick side.
BU thought they went up 2-0 90 seconds later on a Chris Higgins’ short-handed breakaway. Cheverie made the initial stop on Higgins, but Higgins’ momentum carried him into Cheverie and the net, knocking it off its moorings. In the process, Higgins’ skate kicked the puck into the net; either way, no goal was awarded.
However, thanks to a power play soon after, the Terriers were able to get that 2-0 lead with 8:55 remaining in the first period on a tic-tac-toe passing play, with tournament MVP Matt Gilroy being the beneficiary after his blast from the top of the zone smoked Cheverie.
“We’re lucky to have him back,” said BU coach Jack Parker of the senior defenseman. “He had 23 teams offering him pro contracts last year, but he wanted to come back, get his degree and play with his brother [Kevin, a freshman forward] and that’s what he did and we’re happy to have him. He’s a hell of a player.”
The middle frame was quiet until the last few minutes when the teams exchanged goals.
The Pioneers narrowed the Terriers’ lead to one on a Rhett Rakhshani tally with 2:19 remaining in the period. Rakhshani picked up a failed clearing attempt by Millan at the right hashmarks and dished it to Maiani behind the goal line, who passed it back to Rakhshani. Millan stopped Rakhshani’s initial one-timer, but Rakhshani was able to get his rebound and backhanded it behind Millan.
Just 74 seconds later, the Terriers regained their two-goal lead. Nick Bonino won a face-off back to Brandon Yip, who fired the puck stick-side past Cheverie.
“That was a big goal,” said Parker. “[It was a] nice play by Bonino to get it to Yip and Yip can shoot it.”
Both teams had good chances in the third period. Denver had a flurry six and a half minutes in but couldn’t score; a Chris Nutini giveaway almost led to a Zach Cohen goal and a 4-1 BU lead, but he couldn’t convert.
Gwozdecky pulled Cheverie with 2:50 remaining in the third to try and close the gap. Instead, the Terriers’ Zach Cohen scored an empty-net goal with 68 seconds left to put his team up 4-1.
“BU proved to me that they’re one of the top teams in the East, one of the top teams in the country,” said Gwozdecky. “BU came out and played and they took over the game; they dominated in the first period. Second period we came on, third period we came on, but they’re a very good team.”
“Coming out to play a team like Denver is big and getting a win is even bigger,” said Gilroy. “We came out pretty strong the first two periods and then I think the altitude up here kind of affected the guys through the end of the weekend and the third, but Kieran came up with big saves and guys were sacrificing their body blocking shots and I think that was the difference.”
Both teams return to conference play next weekend. DU hosts Michigan Tech while the Terriers host Maine and Providence.