Season a Hit for New-Look Pioneers
3, North Dakota 1
Mullen, T. Bozak
Zajac, J. Marto
Peter Mannino, 60:00, 32 saves, 1 GA
J-P Lamoureux, 58:53, 27 saves, 2 GA, 1 ENG
DU 7/14; NDK 7/14
Plays: DU 1-4; NDK 0-4
ST. PAUL, Minn. — There were some dark
times for Denver in January and February, but all seems
much better in March. On Friday the snow was falling outside
the rink, but in the world of the “new” Pioneers,
everything was bright and sunny.
After a 17-4-0 start, the Pioneers lost two
of their top scorers for all or part of the remainder of
the regular season, and went 5-9-1 down the stretch, including
losses in their last three regular season games. But the
playoffs are a new season, and in many ways, the Pioneers’
3-1 win over North Dakota on Friday was indicative of how
they’re a new team.
According to Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky,
the successful transition began when they found an answer
to the repeated questions about who’d replace the
missing offense in their lineup. The answer, as it turns
out, was nobody.
“We had a number of our regular forwards
who felt they needed to carry more of the load on their
shoulders,” Gwozdecky said. “They needed to
make up for the loss of Brock Trotter. They had to make
up for the loss of Tyler Ruegsegger and step out of the
role that they played to a more dynamic offensive role.
Well, that just doesn’t work.”
What does work, fans were reminded again on
Friday, is defense and goaltending, especially with one-time
Frozen Four MVP Peter Mannino backstopping a run toward
more trophies in his final month of college hockey. North
Dakota had a huge crowd on its side, and threatened to take
over the game early with a 5-on-3 power play in the opening
minutes. But Mannino and the defense-first Pioneers shut
them down, and never allowed the Sioux any momentum. That’s
the hallmark of the new Denver style, and apparently, it’s
|Goaltender Peter Mannino stuffs
T.J. Oshie's shot during Denver's 3-1 win in Friday
afternoon's WCHA semifinal.
“There’s no question that we’ve
had to adjust our philosophy and our system of play a little
bit since the middle of January,” Gwozdecky said.
“We had two of our top scorers out of the lineup for
a great deal of that last third of the season. Take the
two top scorers out of anybody’s lineup. Take (T.J.)
Oshie and (Ryan) Duncan out of North Dakota’s lineup
or (Chad) Rau and (Jack) Hillen out of CC’s lineup
and it changes things.”
So instead of looking for the Pioneers’
next offensive star, Gwozdecky made sure his team got back
to playing to its strengths — namely, defense.
“Once we got our role guys playing the
way they need to, without worrying about who’s going
to score goals, you start to play a lot better,” said
the coach. “The way we need to play because of who
we are right now is we need to be a little bit more conservative.
We’re not going to be a run-and-gun, quick transition
team that we might have been in the first two-thirds of
After winning the Final Five, and the Frozen
Four, in 2005, the Pioneers hadn’t been back to St.
Paul. That fact, and the late-season swoon, had many concerned
“Our second half was a little bumpy,”
Gwozdecky admitted. “I will be very honest. I think
there were some questions asked about our team in the last
third of the season. The pressure and anxiety for our group
was to try to make it to the Final Five. After that playoff
series win on Saturday night, you could just see the invisible
weight lifted off our shoulders.”
In sharp contrast to a month ago, Trotter’s
absence today just means a new member of the 20-man roster
has a chance to hoist the Broadmoor Trophy when the Pioneers
play for the tournament title on Saturday night. And all
20 players seem to know their main role is to enjoy the
turnaround that the start of the playoffs has brought to
“What I saw today was a team that’s
having fun, was eager and excited,” Gwozdecky said.
GOOD NEWS, BETTER NEWS FOR GOPHERS
Colorado Coll. 1 (ot)
Hillen, N. Prosser
Carman, K. Wehrs
Alex Kangas, 64:47, 37 saves, 1 GA
Richard Bachman, 64:47, 33 saves, 2 GA
MN 6/12; CC 5/10
Plays: MN 0-5; CC 1-5
As if Minnesota’s near-miraculous run
to the tournament’s title game wasn’t a great
enough story, Don Lucia began the Friday night press conference
with some news that scores of Gopher fans had been praying
for all week.
“The best news of the day is that Tom
Pohl went home,” Lucia said shortly after Mike Hoeffel’s
overtime goal put Minnesota in the tournament’s final.
“I talked to him today and he sounded really good.
He’s eating and keeping food down, and he doesn’t
have quite the headaches he did before.”
Pohl was severely injured in the Gophers overtime
win over Minnesota State last Sunday and had spent much
of the week in a Rochester hospital after undergoing emergency
surgery for bleeding on the brain.
“He’s certainly on the road to
recovery, so that’s great to hear and we’re
really happy for him,” Lucia said. “The doctors
right now give him the thumbs up that if we were to make
the NCAAs, and it looks like we are, he’d be able
to accompany the team. That would be great for all of us,
and especially for Tom.”
FIRST STAB AT "BEANPOT WEST"
COMING TO ST. PAUL
Since the day the Xcel Energy Center opened
in 2000, there’s been talk of a Beanpot-style regional
tournament featuring the WCHA’s four Minnesota-based
teams. It was announced Friday that thanks to a scheduling
fluke early next season, the first attempt at such an event
will become a reality.
The preliminary league schedule for the 2008-09
season had Minnesota Duluth hosting St. Cloud State and
Minnesota State hosting Minnesota on Nov. 1. The athletic
directors from Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State came
to St. Paul on Friday announce they’ve agreed to give
up one home date each and move their respective games to
the X for a doubleheader that night.
“A Beanpot-type thing has been talked
about in Minnesota for many years,” said WCHA commissioner
Bruce McLeod. “It’s a great idea and it will
be a wonderful event for college hockey. We can’t
guarantee it beyond next year, but we’re hoping to
make that work.”
One thing that has stood in the way of such
an event for several years has been the University of Minnesota’s
hesitation about giving up home dates at Mariucci Arena.
The uncertainty about an all-Minnesota doubleheader at the
X in future years stems from not knowing whether Minnesota
and St. Cloud State will agree to giving up home dates in
2009-10 and beyond.
“I’m willing to look into it,
and Don (Lucia) is too,” said Minnesota athletic director
Joel Maturi. “I’ll have to look at the numbers,
but it’s a great concept.”
There are questions to be answered for Minnesota
State and Minnesota Duluth too, where the game in St. Paul
means moving a marquee date out of your home building, which
may mean angering local fans, but it also means a big payday
assuming all 18,000-plus of the arena’s seats are
“There’s certainly the potential
for us to increase our financial situation by having a game
here,” said Minnesota Duluth athletic director and
football coach Bob Neilson. “Each school has tens
of thousands of alumni in the Twin Cities, so it’s
a unique opportunity to showcase our program to our fans
in this area.”
As for the event’s name, it was officially
called the inaugural “State of Minnesota College Hockey
Showcase” in materials handed out Friday, but somehow
we think something a little more catchy may be coming.
“Thinking of the Beanpot and us being
in the Midwest, my first suggestion was ‘the Hotdish,’”
SEEN AN HEARD AT XCEL ENERGY CENTER
• The crimson sweaters that Denver wears
are somewhat similar, color-wise, to the maroon worn by
Minnesota (more on that topic in a future INCH podcast).
Perhaps that was the reason that hundreds of Gopher fans
erupted in applause when the Pioneers took a 1-0 lead on
North Dakota in the second period on Friday afternoon. We’re
sure it has nothing to do with the 50 years or so that Minnesota
and North Dakota have been archrivals, or that ocean of
Sioux fans cheering for Holy Cross in the NCAA playoffs
a few years ago.
INCH's Three Stars of the Night
Taylor Chorney, North Dakota
Amazing individual effort on North Dakota’s
only goal, first holding the puck in at the blue line,
then feeding Darcy Zajac’s shot on goal, then
crashing the net and popping the puck past Peter Mannino
as the goalie scrambled to cover.
Anthony Maiani, Denver left wing.
When Ryan Martens’ centering pass
ended up on Maiani’s stick in front of the Denver
net, the rookie from Michigan was off to the races.
Maiani took the puck coast-to-coast, going wide in
the offensive zone, then snapping a backhander into
the upper corner of the net for his second game-winner
of the playoffs.
Alex Kangas, Minnesota
Where this kid’s stamina and poise
is coming from, we have no idea. But we were mighty
impressed watching him turn aside all 20 shots he
faced in the opening period Friday, leading his team
to yet another unexpected overtime win.
• Minnesota State’s Joel Hanson,
who was named the league’s top scholar-athlete, echoed
the comments of many others about how far Mavericks coach
Troy Jutting has come in the past year, from being rumored
to be out the door at this time in 2007 to picking up the
league’s coach of the year award Thursday.
“He did a great job this year,”
Hanson said. “We were picked ninth and nobody really
gave us a chance. He always had confidence in us and he
picks us up when we’re down. He’s a great leader
and an inspiration to our team.”
• Janet Testwuide, the mother of Denver’s
J.P. and Colorado College’s Mike, was asked on Thursday
what she does as far as rooting interest when the Pioneers
play the Tigers. “I root for good games, and no injuries,”
she said of the on-ice family feud.
• Pioneers radio voice Jay Stickney,
a long-time friend of INCH, was a late scratch from Friday’s
first game, when some wacky flight arrangements that had
him flying from Denver to Minnesota via Las Vegas ended
up with him stuck in Nevada and unable to get back east
in time to make the contest. Fans in Colorado instead got
to hear a feed from long-time Wisconsin radio man Jack Swanson,
who is broadcasting the games over the Internet on WCHA.com.
• The playoff beard has become a bit
of a cliché in the hockey world, so the players at
North Dakota decided to try something different this year.
If a glance at the Fighting Sioux minus their helmets had
you hankering to watch reruns of “Magnum P.I.,”
it might have been due to the sweet playoff moustaches sported
by the boys from Grand Forks. Of course, the ability to
grow facial hair varies by player, which is why on the postgame
press conference podium, T.J. Oshie looked virtually clean-shaven,
while teammate Taylor Chorney could’ve doubled for
Mark Spitz. “It’s coming in,” joked Oshie.
“It’s getting thicker. Must be all the lights.”
PLUSSES AND MINUSES
were two moments to salute prior to the start of the Friday
evening game. First, Mark Ledbetter belted out a Broadway-worthy
rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. Then the ceremonial
first puck (technically, six of them) was dropped by the
members of the gold medal-winning U.S. junior curling team
Michigan Tech coach Jamie Russell gets a nod for brutal
honesty, having to watch this year’s tournament from
Section 120 after being behind the home bench for a Final
Five game last season. “It sucks,” Russell said
of being a non-participating coach. “It’s difficult
coming here. You’re happy for the teams that got here.
As a coach and as a program we have a heck of a lot of respect
for North Dakota. But it’s not a lot of fun coming
here and watching hockey. You want your team to be here.”
it to the Michigan Tech pep band to come up with a new wrinkle
we hadn’t heard before. The musical folks in the striped
overalls who brought us renditions of “Barbie Girl”
and the “Family Guy” theme at previous tournaments
counted down the final seconds until the clock hit the 10-minute
mark of the second period, then yelled, “HALFTIME!”
acknowledge that the Final Five annually draws huge crowds,
and we were impressed by the sea of green that came out
to cheer North Dakota on a snowy weekday afternoon, but
the number of attendance “records” announced
by the tournament folks is getting ridiculous. It seems
like every session in the building, no matter who’s
playing, is hyped as some kind of new attendance standard.
OK, enough. We get it.
Nature is at it again. There’s a weather-related legend
in Minnesota that there’s always a snowstorm during
the state high school basketball tournament. Due to the
Easter weekend, state high school officials moved the hoops
tourney back a week this year, but the weather gods didn’t
get the memo, and brought a huge winter storm down on St.
Paul Thursday night and all day Friday. Ahh, springtime
in the State of Hockey.
a shorthanded rush late in the second period of the afternoon
game, North Dakota’s T.J. Oshie, carrying the puck,
was twice knocked down by solid, open-ice checks. That produced
a rain of boos from the thousands of NoDak fans in attendance
who wanted a penalty. Sorry folks, but checking a guy with
the puck is legal. And contrary to what some believe, WCHA
does not stand for Without Contact Hockey Association.
of contact, Friday evening referee Don Adam hit the ice
hard in pregame warm-ups after a collision with the Goldy
Gopher mascot. According to other league officials, such
pre-game crashes are rare but not unheard of. Todd Anderson,
who worked the Friday afternoon game, recalled a collision
with North Dakota’s backup goalie before a game several
years ago that left both men smarting.
Watching the Friday night semifinal presented
Denver with a bit of a Hobson’s choice. Would you
like to face the regular-season champs who beat you three
times earlier in the season, or the tired Minnesota club
that will have a huge crowd on its side? In the end it will
be a rematch of the 2002 tournament final, and Gwozdecky
will be looking to go three for his team’s last three
appearances in the tournament.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever
seen a Minnesota team play with much heart, desire and will
as that team is playing with right now,” Gwozdecky
said. “With all the things they’ve gone through
— the loss of players, the injuries. It’s inspiring
to watch them play.
"So if there’s any way that we
can get a bye, that’s perhaps what I would like to
suggest or ask for,” he added, with a smirk.
In the afternoon, the teams that battled for
first and second in the last two months of the regular season
will play for third place in the tournament, with a possible
No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament on the line.