(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Denver Athletics)
Coming into this one we had an idea of what we might see today. Filip Larsson stole the show in net for the Pioneers of Denver yesterday afternoon and he added to his lore with another shutout in the West Region Final in Fargo for Denver. The team played superb defense around him, and like so many games before this one, helped him withstand a furious American International College (AIC) comeback in the third to get a 3-0 win and their 16th trip to the Frozen Four in Buffalo in a few weeks.
This one, like so many before, did not come easy for the Pioneers. However, they almost seem to play better this season when getting out shot and counter-punching. Their goals against goalies have all come on counter attacks and have all started with the Pioneers displaying a team-focused effort on defense. Once again, despite getting out shot 26-24 on the evening including only mustering two shots on net in the third, Denver found a way to win.
One injury for Pioneers fans to keep an eye on is the hand, or arm of forward Emilio Pettersen. According to Head Coach, David Carle, the Pioneers will re-evaluate his condition in the coming days. Pettersen left the game in the first period and did not return to the bench.
The Pioneers have a confidence in Larsson that he can take them all the way to the top. As Head Coach David Carle said “(We have) confidence in our goaltender to make big saves in key moments.
As to the scoring side of things, the first period was scoreless despite Denver playing arguably their best period of the weekend. They out shot AIC 10-4 and spent the majority of the period on the attack. The second period featured an opening of the scoring ledger for the Pioneers. 15:45 into the second, the Pioneers capitalized on a bounce behind the AIC net. Ryan Barrow threw a puck in space to Colin Staub on the glove side of AIC netminder Zackarias Skog. Staub wired a shot to the net as quick as he could and was able to beat Skog high to the blocker side to provide the game winning tally. Skog finished the night with 22 saves on 24 shots.
To AIC’s credit, even after the Staub goal, they never gave up. They arguably were the better team at the end of the second and throughout the third period. The only reason why AIC was shutout for the first time all season was Larsson. He was named Most Outstanding Player of the region. The Red Wings’ prospect made 10 saves in the third period and had to fight off multiple grade-a chances. The Pioneers only mustered two shots on net in the third, doubling their output from the semifinal against Ohio State in the third.
Fortunately for Denver, both of those shots found the back of the net. Liam Finlay provided an insurance marker for the Pioneers 16:30 into the third before Jarid Lukosevicius sealed it with an empty net marker 18:37 into the final frame in Fargo. Denver moves on to take on a Massachusetts-Amherst team lead by super prospect and future Colorado Avalanche defender Cale Makar.
As to AIC, this team played a superb game and represented Atlantic Hockey well all weekend. Head Coach Eric Lang noted that in building this team that he and his staff had to ” turn over a lot of rocks.” Well his staff found some pure gold for this team. Of the Yellow Jackets’ side, they graduate two seniors that played a game this season in Captain Shawn McBride and Ryan Polin, along with Ryan Papa who played an advisory role for the Yellow Jackets this season due to a concussion issue. Skog and center Hugo Reinhardt were the first two European recruits Lang’s staff convinced to play at AIC and their success arguably is a marker for the future. This team was built from all around the world and after turning over many rocks, Lang and his staff, with this weekend in their back pocket, opened many fans, and recruits’ eyes to why the value of AIC should not ever be dismissed in college hockey circles again.
For the Yellow Jackets, this team will return and this weekend was the most important one in their program’s history. They capitalized on their win yesterday and spent a lot of time calling recruits in the period between their win and the game last night. The final thing for Yellow Jackets to look forward to this season is the publication of the final rankings. To a lot of fans of a lot of other teams, these rankings can seem insignificant. To the Yellow Jackets and Coach Lang, these rankings mean the world.He said, ” we’d love to sit inside the top 20 and sit on that for an entire summer. It would make the summer go better so if I can make the pitch and tell those people on some of these polls…I do think if you’re one of the last eight teams standing, you should be top 20 in the country.”