Pioneers can’t solve Alex Leclerc, tie Tigers for second straight night

Photo courtesy Shannon Valerio, DU Athletics

COLORADO SPRINGS – The top-ranked University of Denver Pioneers did earn the extra point for NCHC standings purposes, but for the second straight night, they skated to a tie with the Colorado College Tigers. It wasn’t the weekend result the Pioneers were looking for, especially against the once lowly Tigers, but after last night’s lackluster performance there was a lot more to like from the Pioneers at the World Arena tonight.

Denver looked like the better team from the get-go. They were skating hard, winning battles in the small areas, and it looked like they wanted it more than the Tigers. The only problem was CC goalie Alex Leclerc was up to his old tricks and was guarding the net like it was his first-born child.

“[Leclerc] was terrific,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said. “Our guys picked corners and he was patient. Maybe they hit him in the shoulder. We had three or four stuffs in the first period that he fought off and he was square to rebounds as well. He was seeing the puck like it was a water balloon.”

The first of his many highlight reel saves came on a three-on-one chance in the first period. Ian Mitchell received a pass to Leclerc’s left and had a wide open net to shoot at…or so Mitchell thought. He sent the puck at twine, but Leclerc’s glove seemed to come out of nowhere to complete what will be the NCHC’s top play of the week.

Denver controlled much of the play for the rest of the opening period, but it was CC who once again ended the scoreless tie. Right as a CC power play expired, Trevor Gooch found a loose puck right in front of DU goalie Tanner Jaillet and tapped home the puck to give the Tigers a 1-0 late in the first period.

Maybe CC’s goal woke Denver up. Last night, when the Tigers took the lead and started taking it to the Pioneers, players like Troy Terry and Henrik Borgström were trying to do too much by themselves and it hurt their chances. Tonight, however, they came out in the second period firing and kept dominating play. DU hemmed CC in their zone at times and throughout the period, it seemed like DU was on the verge of breaking the game open. However, Leclerc once again kept the Pioneers off the scoreboard.

“I thought Troy did a much better job,” Montgomery said of his star forward’s performance. “His work ethic and how he skated tonight was really good…Troy Terry is such a great teammate and competitor and when things aren’t going well, he wants to put everything on his back.”

Just 17 seconds into the third period, the Pioneers finally found the back of the net. The Tigers were playing sluggish hockey and the Pios pounced. Henrik Borgström gathered the puck below the net and found Liam Finlay backdoor and all Finlay had to do was keep his stick on the ice. It seemed like that goal might break open the Leclerc Dam, but that just wasn’t the case.

Denver played their best hockey of the night in the third period and despite sending 17 shots at Leclerc in the final stanza, they couldn’t find the back of the net again until Finlay netted his second of the night after a highlight reel spin-o-rama in three-on-three overtime…after the game was already officially a tie.

Despite grabbing just three of six possible points, the Pioneers have a good taste left in their mouths. Tonight was, without a doubt, the best they’ve looked since trouncing Boston College in Beantown just before Halloween. There were sloppy moments again and some more selfish play by their best players, but Denver finally looked like Denver.

If there was any other goalie playing for CC, the Pioneers beat the Tigers by a score of at least 5-1. Leclerc is one of the country’s best goalies and he was at his best all game long this evening. Tonight’s result wasn’t what the Pioneers wanted but sometimes, just sometimes, Alex Leclerc happens.