Freshmen shine as Pioneers rebound to sink Lakers, 5-1

Photo courtesy DU Hockey

After a lackluster Friday night performance that saw the top-ranked University of Denver Pioneers tie the Lake Superior State Lakers on the same night DU raised their eighth national championship banner, the Pios came back on Saturday and skated the Lakers out of Magness Arena in the series finale. Freshmen defenseman Griffin Mendel and forward Jaako Heikkinen each scored their first career goals, Troy Terry added two tallies, and freshman goalie Dayton Rasmussen shined in his first career collegiate start.

“We played well last night but we didn’t play great,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said. “I thought we played great tonight. Last night [LSSU] got odd-man rushes. They didn’t get one tonight. We really cleaned up things.”

Despite shoddy at best officiating from Timm Walsh and Todd Anderson, it was a complete performance for the Pioneers and a lot went right on a night that they once again trounced the Lakers on the shot board 54-16. The Pios still looked rusty at times and it seemed that some lines are still getting used to playing with each other, but after last night’s performance, DU fans should be happy and maybe a bit relieved to see Denver rebound like they did tonight.

“When one team has the puck all night, it’s a difficult game to call,” Montgomery said of the officiating. “What I loved was how much they communicated to me. They explained what they saw and as long as I know what they’re seeing, I’m on the same page.”

The first half of the first period wasn’t exactly how the Pios drew it up as LSSU struck first for the second straight night when Josh Nenadal tipped a William Riedall shot past Rasmussen. But from that point forward, it was all Pioneers. Troy Terry evened the game with about three minutes left in the first period with a snipe over Lakers goalie Mareks Mitens’ shoulder and added his second on a tip-in with about two minutes left in the second period.

The Pios continued their dominance in the third period when Mendel and Heikkinen scored their first career goals after Michael Davies tallied his first of the year just 47 seconds into the final frame to seal the 5-1 victory.

“It was surreal,” Mendel said of his goal. “I didn’t know what to do after I scored. I couldn’t believe it happened. It’s always nice when you have a big crowd like that behind you the whole game.”

As well as the Pioneers played, the night belonged to the freshmen. On top of Mendel’s and Heikkinen’s heroics near the end of the game, Rasmussen shined while stopping 15 of the 16 shots he faced. It’s not easy for any goalie, much less a freshman making his first career start, to focus when he’s facing so few shots all night. Rasmussen commanded the crease and the area all around the net throughout the evening and the Lakers had no chance after Nenadal’s tally in the first period.

“It was funny to hear a couple of guys on the bench saying how solid Rasmussen looked in the net,” Montgomery said. “He was finding pucks in traffic and just using his size and athleticism to swallow things up.”

Anytime a freshman has a first, it’s a good night, but to have three freshmen earn their firsts, it’s an extremely special night. The Pioneers played special hockey this evening and what they showed tonight bodes very well for the rest of the season.