A back and forth battle between the No. 2-ranked University of Denver Pioneers (7-2-3, 3-0-3 NCHC) and the Air Force Academy Falcons (6-4-2, 4-2-0 AHC) on Friday, Nov. 25 resulted in an overtime victory for DU. Denver’s sophomores dominated scoring as Jarid Lukosevicius converted the game winner in the third minute of overtime. Classmates, Colin Staub, Dylan Gambrell and Troy Terry each scored prior.
Lukosevicius fired his initial slap shot from the right faceoff circle – deflected by Air Force’s goalie Billy Christopoulos. Gambrell collected the loose puck and backhanded where Lukosevicius tapped in the game-winner on the doorstep.
The Pioneers outshot the Falcons 43-23, but struggled lighting the lamp. Denver was off its game, relinquishing seven penalties and two powerplay goals.
“Air Force was relentless, they’re a really good college hockey team. I think they’re going to be a tournament team,” Head coach Jim Montgomery said.
Originally committed to the Air Force Academy, Staub put the Pioneers on the board just 50 seconds into the opening frame. Staub was diagnosed with keratoconus; a progressive eye disease that thins the cornea and distorts vision preventing his acceptance into the Air Force Academy one day before basic training. Fitting that the forward scored his first goal of his sophomore campaign against the Falcons.
“It was nice to see it [Staub score],” Montgomery said. “He started protecting pucks and making plays. He was phenomenal, he was a horse out there. When he’s playing good hockey he’s moving his feet, he’s protecting pucks and he’s making really good decisions going to the net.”
Troy Terry was assessed with interference leading Air Force to tie the game up one apiece with the man-advantage in the sixth minute. Junior defenseman Phil Boje fired a slapshot from the point to beat Jaillet.
Roughly three minutes later, San Jose Sharks prospect Gambrell doubled the Pioneers lead. Denver received its first powerplay of the night after Air Force’s Johnny Hrabovsky was called for holding.
Gambrell sent a slap shot past Christopoulos. Senior captain Will Butcher and Florida Panthers prospect Henrik Borgstrom received assists on the play.
The second period remained scoreless. The Pioneers effort lagged as the Falcons increased their intensity, but Denver managed a 10-9 shot on goal edge for the period.
Air Force’s Brady Tomlak equalized the score 39 seconds into the third period. Boje’s initial shot from the point was tipped in by Tomlak. 13 seconds later, Anaheim Ducks prospect Terry intercepted a pass and beat Christopoulos to regain Denver’s lead 3-2.
The Falcons scored their second power play goal of the night after Hammond assessed with interference. Erik Baskin tipped in a shot taken by Kyle Mackew between the circles equalizing the score 3-3 five minutes into the final frame.
With a 5-on-3 opportunity in the last ten minutes of regulation Denver frustratingly couldn’t convert, sending the game into an additional period. Denver has yet to relinquish more than two goals since its win against Boston University on Oct. 14, but the Falcons’ pressure was unforgiving.
“There was frustration after we didn’t score on the go-ahead 5-on-3,” Montgomery said. “Your best players are out there and you expect them to put the game away there. I thought the last three-to-four minutes of the third period we started to regain our rhythm and overtime I don’t think they crossed the red line.”
While Denver was late to finish its chances, Montgomery noted a turning point amongst Denver’s offensive lines, “I thought that’s [tonight] the best our forwards have moved the puck. It’s great to see that growth for some guys like Evan Ritt and Rudy Junda who had great opportunities. Kevin Conley had a great chance. We got Staub getting his first goal. We’ve got guys starting to score so you’ll see our team really start to pop. I really liked the way we moved the puck.”
The Pioneers return to Magness Arena tomorrow night, Nov. 26 to take on Wisconsin. Puck-drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.