Denver’s high-scoring men’s hockey team doesn’t play a lot of nail biters. But the Pioneers weren’t scared off when things got closer in the final minutes of the NCAA Tournament’s first round.
Cameron Wright scored the game-winning goal for Denver at 17:03 of the third period to break the tie and earn a 3-2 victory over UMass Lowell Thursday night in Loveland, Colorado.
“We believe in each other and we believe in our team,” Wright said. “We know we can win games and score goals. (We) didn’t have too many close games, so it was a good lesson for us to learn how to persevere and find a way to win this game.
No. 1 Denver (28-9-1) advanced to Saturday’s regional final, where he will face No. 2 Minnesota Duluth for a trip to the Frozen Four. No. 4 Lowell’s season ended at 21-11-3. Duluth (22-15-4) won 3-0 over Michigan Tech (21-13-3) in Thursday’s afternoon semifinal.
Carter Mazur picked up a bouncing puck off the boards at the redline down the right side, hauled the puck into Lowell’s area and fed it to a streaky Wright who extended his stick just enough to deflect it into the net past Lowell goalkeeper Owen Savory (22 saves), whipping the mostly home crowd into a frenzy.
“They didn’t make it easy,” Denver coach David Carle said of Lowell. “It was a really tough game, and for that I give our players a ton of credit for sticking with it. We haven’t been in a lot of those really close games this year.
Lowell opened the scoring on Lucas Condotta’s 10th goal of the season. A scrimmage behind the net involving Lowell’s Marek Korencik and Nik Armstrong-Kingkade resulted in the puck being kicked out at the point where Condotta slammed it into the right side of Pioneers goalie Magnus Chrona (16 saves) for a 1-0 lead. -0 to 10:18.
The Pioneers got on the board late in the first when junior defenseman Justin Lee whipped a wrist from the left face-off circle to the net, where Brett Stapely redirected it past the blocker of a bewildered Savory to tie the game. the game at 6:36 p.m. It was Stapely’s 16th goal this season.
Denver nearly took a 2-1 lead in the final minutes of the middle period when a Sean Behrens shot high into the slot and bounced off the back of Savory’s right leg. As the puck slowly made its way to the goal line, River Hawks defenseman Jon McDonald put his stick on it just in time to clear it safely. The game was so close that Denver’s Massimo Rizzo appeared to start a premature goal celebration.
Denver, playing just an hour from its campus, edged the River Hawks 28-18 and controlled the pace of play for most of the second and third periods. But Lowell proved difficult to shake.
“I liked the effort,” Lowell coach Norm Bazin said. “I thought the guys left him on the ice. A very classy group of seven seniors. I liked our start today. Our penalty kill was good. Unfortunately, we got caught killing three in the second, sapping our energy a bit.
With the teams playing 4 on 4 in the third period, Savoie picked up the puck deep in the Pioneers zone and skated along the ice on the right side. With him and Bobby Brink leading a 2-on-1 charge against Lowell’s Nick Austin, Savoie faked Brink but elected to keep the puck himself and ripped it to Savory’s opposite side for a 2-1-9 lead. :26.
“I saw their D committing to Bob,” Savoie said. “Our goalie coach did a really good job in pre-scouting, so I had to shoot from the far side. I took the photo where I wanted it.
Lowell tied for the third time on the night at 14:21 of the final period when Connor Sodergren got a stick on a bouncing puck in front of the net following a cross pass from Matt Crasa on the right wing.
“I think we played a great game,” Lowell’s Condotta said. “They only had one goal better than us.”