Heikkinen’s powerplay goal lifts Denver past Dartmouth

photo courtesy of Shannon Valerio

After going 0-for-12 on powerplay attempts over the past four games, Jaako Heikkinen’s lone conversion on the man-advantage sent the No. 2-ranked University of Denver Pioneers past the Dartmouth College Big Green 1-0 in a nonconference series.

A scoreless opening frame where Denver (10-3-4, 5-3-2-1 NCHC) edged Dartmouth in shots on goal 11-10, the momentum was shifted during the second period. The Pioneers returned after intermission re-energized.

“After the first period we just talked about how that was not Denver hockey,” Heikkinen said. “As a team we decided to start working hard, harder than the first period. That’s how we got our results.”

With 16 total powerplay minutes exchanged among teams, Denver’s second-tier powerplay unit would finally convert in the 16th minute of the second frame. Arranged in a triangle near the left faceoff circle, freshman forward Kohen Olischefski, junior foward Colin Staub and Heikkinen assembled a tic-tac-toe string of passes to expose the Big Green’s blueline. The Finnish freshman buried his one-timer on the far side of Dartmouth goalie Dean Shatzer, to mark his fifth goal of the season.

“That was big for us,” DU head coach Jim Montgomery said. “Earlier in the year our top-powerplay unit was doing really well so they [the second unit] didn’t get as many minutes. You can see them starting to get comfortable, they moved off the puck really well and I thought they got more pucks to the net than our top unit did.”

Denver hosted the Big Green after tying Colorado College in both games of a home-and-home series. Dartmouth (2-8-1, 2-4-1 ECAC) entered the series on a six-game winless streak and posted a 0-5-1 road record, which the Big Green were outscored 25-7 throughout those games.

“I thought watching film that they were a far superior team than their records showed,” Montgomery said. “Obviously getting good goaltending like they did tonight helps a lot, but they were dangerous.”

Despite Dartmouth’s struggles, the Big Green’s defense was sharp on holding the dynamic DU offense to only one goal. The Pioneers entered the series with a scoring average of 3.62 goals per game, tied for fifth in the NCAA. 

“More desperation [was needed], we don’t shoot pucks quick enough,” Montgomery said. “It’s hold on, hold on and then make the perfect shot. We don’t have to make the perfect shot. If a goalie makes a mistake it’s in the net and our players need to realize that. The quicker releases are going to go in the net or create rebounds that allow other player to score.”

The Big Green battled back in the third period testing DU goalie Tanner Jaillet as they  trailed Denver 6-7 in shots on goal. Jaillet denied Dartmouth’s attempts, as he made 23 saves to earn the shutout. The senior and 2017 Mike Richter Award recipient has allowed one or fewer goals in three of Denver’s past four games, posting a save percentage of .945 and a 1.50 goal against average.

Denver’s blueline continued its perfection on the penalty kill after it posted 11/11 penalty kills over the past four games and continued to excel and extend the tally to 14/14.

Leading up to the weekend, Denver’s practice was mediocre which reflected in the team’s performance as they struggled to dominate over their Ivy League opponent.

“I think it showed that we didn’t have a great week of practice because we came out flat,” Montgomery said. “Dartmouth came out a much better team prepared than we were. I did like the way we responded in the second and the way we played in third.”

The Pioneers return to Magness Arena tomorrow, Saturday, Dec. 16 for the second game of the series against the Big Green. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:05 pm.