Homecoming 2015 started with a bang as Pioneers hockey team took advantage of a defensive breakdown by Michigan State late in the third period as Gabe Levin scored the game winning goal on a great wrist shot from the low slot.
The game started as both games against Air Force did: an early goal from Michigan State. At the 1:03 mark of the first period, JT Stenglein was the beneficiary of a lucky bounce as the puck barely made it past DU goalie Evan Cowley.
Yet again, Denver would have to come from behind. After the initial goal, DU seemed to settle in a bit and began dominating play as many predicted they would, though they didn't break through with a goal until the 10:25 mark of the first period. Emil Romig found the puck low in the slot on the rebound of a great shot by Dylan Gambrell and buried it low right to tie the game at 1.
After that, the Pioneers and the Spartans went over a half hour without a goal. While the effort didn't show on the scoreboard, most spectators could see that the balance of play was heavily in favor of the Pioneers from about the 5 minute mark of the 1st period on through the entire game.
"I bet we had the puck over 70% of the time tonight," Coach Montgomery quipped after the game. "If their goalie isn't great, this could have been a different game."
Throughout the second period, the Pioneers kept the pressure on MSU's goalie, Jake Hildebrand. The Pios managed to get 15 shots on goal in the period and, with the exception of a long, 1:44 5 on 3 Spartan power play, DU didn't give up many scoring chances. The only reason the Pios didn't score in the period was they missed two wide open nets, including one that Will Butcher missed the mouth of the net by less than 4 inches on a gorgeous pass into the slot.
The 2nd 5 on 3 penalty kill was probably one of the turning points of the game. The Spartans hadn't had many quality scoring chances since early in the first period and they were determined to make good on the mistake by the Pioneers. If it weren't for the play of Cowley, they would have taken a second period lead.
When asked about the 5 on 3 penalty kill, Coach Montgomery said, "Cowley was stoic in net. He's been that way for two games now."
The third period started very similarly to the first. At the 3:14 mark, after roughly 2 minutes of great Spartan pressure, Flames prospect Matt DeBlouw broke the tie beat Cowley after a perfectly executed 3-on-2 sequence.
DeBlouw's goal woke the Pioneers up and they didn't give up a single great scoring chance the rest of the way.
Just 5 and a half minutes after Michigan State broke the tie, Matt VanVoorhis tied it right back up with an absolute laser from the high slot, beating Hildebrand high glove side.
DENVER GOAL!!!!!!!!!! Matt VanVoorhis with a HUGE wrister going top right from the high slot to tie the game!!!!! 2-2 #DUGameDay— LetsGoDU (@LetsGoDU) October 17, 2015
Less than four minutes later, Gabe Levin broke the tie with a wicked wrister top left to give the Pios their first lead of the game. As soon as the puck hit the back of the net, Magness Arena erupted with its loudest cheer of the game. 3-2 Pios.
Even after taking the lead, the Pioneers wouldn't let Michigan State regain any momentum. One of the reasons for that was their incredible puck pressure in their defensive zone. Coach Montgomery acknowledged, "I thought our puck pressure in our zone was really good. But we've got to do a better job defending on the rush."
With 4 seconds left, and the game all but won, Logan O'Connor wristed in an empty-net goal to seal the deal and notch his first career collegiate goal.
Game over. Pioneers win, 4-2.
Denver went 0 for 3 on the power play, Michigan State went 0 for 5; Denver outshot the Spartans 36-27; VanVoorhis' goal was his first of the season, as was Levin's; Dylan Gambrell had the lone assist on Emil Romig's second goal of the season; Denver scored 3 of its 4 goals in the 3rd period; Evan Cowley stopped 25 of 27 shots for a .926 SV% while Hildebrand stopped 32 of 35 shots for .914 SV% (O'Connor's EN goal does not count against Hildebrand's statistics); Attendance was 5,475, 95% of Magness Arena's capacity; Denver dominated the face-off circle winning 26 of 44 face-offs.
Denver (2-1-0) vs Michigan St (1-1-1)