The Cutthroats made a statement last night that pro hockey is alive and well in Denver. In front a lively crowd of 5,182, the home team started out franchise history on an exciting, positive note.
Both teams came out slow in the first, but as the period wore on, the energy increased. The ice was at an even tilt as scoring chances presented themselves at both ends. Goaltenders Kent Patterson (Denver) and Mike Clemente (Missouri) played strong, turning away 9 and 11 shots respectively, many of which came on rushes through center ice. By the end of the opening frame, tempers started flaring to set up a second with chirps at the ready.
At just over 5 minutes into the second, Mavericks' Brian Bicek was called for hooking, although Gabriel Beaupre matched that with a penalty of his own for diving. Even with four-on-four, the Cutthroats looked as if they were on the power play, forcing Missouri into some mistakes, one of which committed by Matt Krug who went off for hooking at 6:24. The Cutthroats capitalized just as the first penalties expired. With Brad Smyth screening Clemente, Kyle Quincey fed AJ Gale who went high glove side for the first goal in team history, putting the Cutthroats up 1-0.
The Fish took momentum from that goal and put the Mavericks back on their heels.
“It was nice to get the first goal, obviously, and build a little bit of momentum, and I think we carried it on,” said Gale.
With just under 7 minutes left in the second, Smyth tallied the second goal of the night off of a rebound to put the Cutthroats up 2-0. Gale got the assist.
Frustration started to catch hold for Missouri with Clemente looking shaky and Krug taking a penalty for a nasty cross-check for which the fans wanted more than two minutes. Although the Fish moved the puck well and maintained zone possession for much of the power play, the Mavericks managed to generate some short-handed chances. Shortly after killing the penalty, they got on the board with a wrap-around by Jeff Pierce. The goal gave Missouri some life, and Denver struggled to preserve their one goal lead going into the second intermission.
Just 34 seconds into the third period, Denver's Smyth took an interference call. Continuing where things left off, the Mavericks generated a flurry of chances while the Cutthroats' PK looked slow and tentative. Patterson was up to the challenge, though, stopping both shots with ease and confidence.
The kill seemed to give the home team some jump, setting up some premium chances. Quincey sent a tape-to-tape pass up the middle to Luke Fulghum who was robbed by Clemente. Then Markus Lauridsen, newly assigned to the Cutthroats by the Lake Erie Monsters, ripped a one-timer inches above Clemente's glove to return the lead to two goals. Assists on the goal went to Schwab and Smyth.
The goal didn't discourage the Mavericks, though, as they got the tally right back with a garbage goal by Matt McCready, Pierce with the assist. The goal came off of solid pressure that wore Denver's defense down. Again, the goal seemed to inject some energy into Missouri's game, as they looked to negate the 3-2 lead held by the Fish.
Beaupre was called for his second penalty of the night, putting Missouri on the power play with almost seven minutes left in the game. The visitors didn't let the opportunity go to waste. On a crazy play, John-Scott Dickson, Derek Leblanc and Bicek played Whac-a-Mole with the puck, shoving it behind Patterson to tie the game at three.
The Cutthroats regained control of the game for the remaining three minutes to send it into overtime. The teams traded shots, and the game seemed a done deal when Schwab sent a beauty of a pass behind the back to Gale, who shot it high and wide. It wouldn't matter, though, as rookie Jamie MacQueen gobbled up a puck that was turned over at the blueline and snuck a wrister past Clemente to secure the win for Denver.
"It's a good first win," Head Coach Derek Armstrong said. "You can't draw it up much better than that. It would have been nice to get the two points earlier, but game winner in overtime? What more can you ask for?"
Post-game, Quincey recognized that playing in the CHL is quite different than in the NHL. “I have way more time, which I’m not used to,” said Quincey. He also said that jumping into his first game since last spring took some adjustment. "It was my first game since last year, so you kind of have to transition from the pickup you play with the guys in the off-season and just kind of bear down in your one-to-one battles.”
For the hero of the night, it's surely a game he'll never forget. "I haven't played too many pro games," MacQueen said. "I was a little nervous . . . But then the game progressively went on, and I felt comfortable out there, and I guess the end speaks for itself."
That it does. The Cutthroats face the Mavericks again tonight, hoping to improve on their record to 2-0 before hitting the road for Rapid City. Tickets are still available for tonight's game.