CINCINNATI — For 20 minutes Saturday afternoon, the Denver Pioneers showed why they are the top-seeded team in the NCAA tournament along with being the top seed in the Midwest Regional.
They scored four goals in the opening frame en route to a 5-2 victory over Michigan Tech at U.S. Bank Arena.
The experienced Pioneers took advantage of three power plays, getting two goals on those advantages from winger Colin Staub as part of that first-period blitz.
“In a tournament like this, special teams is huge,” said Pioneers captain Will Butcher. “I thought, today, both units had an attitude going over the boards. That second unit got two big goals for us.”
Denver coach Jim Montgomery was pleased that his team took No. 19 Michigan Tech’s game away in the opening frame and forced the Huskies to chase Denver the rest of the game.
“I thought it was a great start by our group,” said Montgomery. “You can tell, led by our seniors and juniors, that we have been here before with the way we were very aggressive to start the game.”
Staub got the Pioneers on the board just 4:42 into the contest when he parked himself in front of Huskies goaltender Angus Redmond. Staub creating traffic in front was something that defenseman Adam Plant could use to his advantage.
“Goalies are so good at this level,” said Plant. “If there is no one in front, they are going to see it, they are going to make the save 10 out of 10 times. Having good sticks like Colin and [Evan Janssen], really our whole team, makes a difference.”
Plant’s shot was tipped in by Staub for that first goal.
Staub struck again 8:03 later on Denver’s third power play when defenseman Michael Davies’ shot rebounded right to a spot he could reach, and he batted home the rebound.
“Our unit goes out there and look to try to get pucks to the net and get shots with [Janssen] and my sticks there,” said Staub. “We both have strong sticks there.”
A misplay by Redmond led to the Pioneers’ third goal as his attempted pass hit center Evan Ritt and kicked out front, where winger Emil Romig knocked it home at 14:51.
Three goals would have been a lot for the Huskies to try to come back from, but things got even worse when Butcher’s seemingly innocent shot from the left point off a faceoff hit a Huskies defender and beat Redmond at 15:26.
“We took a penalty three minutes in,” said Huskies coach Mel Pearson. “We took another one seven minutes in and another one 11 minutes in. You just cannot do that against a good team. Denver is a very good team, and they might be the best team in the country; obviously they are coming in ranked No. 1. I have not seen a better team. They are well coached, and they play hard. We just cannot take penalties early and give up the goals early like we did.”
Pioneers freshman Tyson McLellan put the game out of reach in the second period with a tally just 6:26 in. He jumped on a rebound off a shot from winger Liam Finlay and beat Redmond.
The Huskies took control of the final eight minutes of the second period and were rewarded with goals from winger Gavin Gould on their only power play of the game and center Jake Lucchini in the final seconds of the period.
The Huskies came out hard in the third and had a quality scoring chance almost seven minutes in when winger Joel L’Esperance beat Pioneers goaltender Tanner Jaillet with a shot. Fortunately for Denver fans, the shot did not beat the post.
Jaillet finished with 16 saves in the win.