AJ Gale celebrates his natural hat trick. - Hector Acevedo/Denver Coliseum
Despite a strong start, the Denver Cutthroats proved to be no match for the Missouri Mavericks in the second half of the back-to-back weekend.
Goals were on show last night in the Denver Coliseum. 13 were scored between the two teams, and few were of the mucky garbage variety.
AJ Gale started things off again, this time with a wrister on the short side that made it clean past the Maverick's goalie, Lee Austin. Less than two minutes later, he did it again. This time, he took a one-timer right off the face off, but it went in just as cleanly. Lee never even saw it. The assists went to Brad Smyth and Troy Schwab.
Halfway through the first, the Cutthroats were on top 2-0 and in complete control of the game. The Mavericks looked slow and frustrated. Moreover, the few shots Denver's Kieran Millan faced were handled easily.
Missouri's Colt King tried to get his team fired up by taking on Nick Laporte in a fight. Laporte got the first few punches in, but then it was all King, eventually throwing Laporte down to the ice.
The fight didn't seem to have the affect King wanted as the Mavs were still struggling, but another scrap—one in which Riley Emmerson tried to engage the Fish's Steve Makway, who wasn't biting—sent another pair to the bench for unsportsmanlike conduct. Emmerson got an additional two tacked on for roughing (Hint, Emmy: When the other guy doesn't drop his gloves, there is no fight), putting the Cutthroats on a power play.
The Fish had some great pressure, controlling the puck well, but young Tony Mosey let his emotions get the best of him, and he took a guy down 200 feet from his own net. The teams went four-on-four for a minute. Just as Emmerson's penalty expired, Ryan Jardine got his stick on a puck that dribbled into the crease and netted the Mavs' first goal of the night, going high glove side past Millan.
That goal started a flurry of them for Missouri. Just thirty seconds later, Kellan Tochkin shoveled one in off of a rebound from Trevor Kell. The play went under review as it appeared there was some goalie interference, but the goal was ruled to be good. With under seven minutes left in the first, it was a tie game. The duo of Tochkin and Kell combined again for another goal, giving the Mavericks a 3-2 lead going into the second period.
Despite some rejuvenation to their game, the Cutthroats were stopped by superb play from Missouri. The Mavs forced turnovers, clogged up the middle, and made generating offense a challenge for the home team. Of course, their trouble with connecting on passes wasn't helping. Neither were the ice conditions; freshly-laid ice and a warm evening brought soft ice and bouncy pucks. Lots of "swing and a miss" plays out there. The Mavs also traded out goalies, bringing Mike Clemente back for a second night against the Fish.
About five minutes in, though, Gale made history once again by getting the natural hat trick. Smyth fed him from behind the net, and Gale sent it five-hole to tie the game at 3. You can tell this is a new team because the crowd didn't realize Gale got the hattie until the announcement was made. Play almost started, in fact, before the hats went flying. They'll learn the numbers soon enough.
Gale took the historic goal in stride, though, giving credit where it's due.
"I owe a lot of my early on success to Brad Smyth and Troy Schwab. They get me the puck there, and it's working out in my favor right now."
Kyle Quincey looked every bit the NHL player last night. His vision was fantastic, and he often found himself exactly where he needed to be. A minute after Gale's goal, Quincey took a hit at the blueline of the offensive zone to give room to Brett Lutes to throw one at the net. The rebound came right to rookie Ben Wilson, who put the fish up 4-3.
The lead didn't last, though, as Jamie Vanderveeken sent a screaming shot from the point past Millan to tie it up at 4. Then John-Scott Dickson put the Mavs head again off of a sweet back pass by Kell. 5-4 Missouri.
Called for hooking at 14:11, Jardine gave the Cutthroats a chance to even the score, and that they did in historic fashion. Just thirty seconds into the power play, Quincey scored his first goal in the CHL, a quintessential wrist shot from the point. The crowd of 3,328 went crazy, cheers echoing off the walls and ceilings; the big smile on the NHLer's face proved that he's not taking his time with the team for granted. "It was fun," he said. "The guys got the puck for me. It was a good laugh."
Unfortunately, the feeling didn't last. Forty seconds later, Pierce got on the board after walking into Denver's zone all alone. His goal, which gave the Mavericks the lead again at 6-5, resulted in a goalie change for the Cutthroats. Millan was replaced by Kent Patterson with just over four minutes left in the period. Patterson held up well in the final minutes of the second despite some mad scrambles in front of the net. His poise helped to calm the boys down.
The Cutthroats started the period well with some solid pressure on Clemente, but the pucks just didn't bounce their way as they missed a couple of open net chances because they couldn't get their sticks to connect. Patterson kept Denver in it, though, swallowing up a screamer from the point as the Mavs continued with their onslaught.
At 6:52 into the third, Tony Mosey was called for hooking, and Missouri went on a text book power play. They controlled the puck well, moving it efficiently in the offensive zone. If it wasn't for Patterson, there would have been another goal. The Cutthroats never seemed to recover from the poor PK performance, though, and miscommunication in front of Patterson gave Sebastien Thinel a prime opportunity to up the Mavericks' lead to two goals with 10 and a half left in the period.
By this time, the Mavs had racked up 42 shots on net, and the Cutthroats were crumbling. Having double-shifted all game, Quincey made a bad judgement call and was deked out of his shorts as Pierce got his second of the night. Mavericks increased their lead to three, a lead that would hold to finish the game at 8-5.
There were no excuses being made for the loss. Yes, the team was tired. Injuries to key players Aaron MacKenzie and Luke Fulghum shortened the bench to 16, forcing a 5-man rotation for defenseman and changing lines for forwards. But the leaders of the team called the loss for what it was: a combination of mistakes, a strong foe, and a young team just getting to know one another.
"Unfortunately, if you're gonna give Missouri some chances like that, they're going to take care of business," Gale said. "They're a skilled team up front, they work hard, and they fought til the end."
"The boys are a little a banged up right now, and I think a little complacency set in," Quincey added. "I thought we had that game. In the first period, we come out, and Galer's shooting the puck like he is. Two to nothing at home, we should really put that way. You just saw how young our systems and everything is. We're not playing together, and we had a couple of defensive breakdowns in our zone, which is just to show it's only be a week in."
On Friday, the Cutthroats head out on a short road trip, hitting up Rapid City before turning around for a re-match Saturday night in Denver. The team is looking forward to it. The time away will give them a chance to bond, which will ultimately improve chemistry. Even Quincey, who's used to corporate jets and five-star hotels, is excited. "I get to go on the bus with the boys," he said with a grin. "I'm looking forward to playing cards with the guys. That's what it's all about. I'm not going to lie to you; I'm really looking forward to Friday."
With the loss on Saturday, Denver's record evens out at 1-1. Their next home game is on Saturday, October 27th. There will be a Halloween Party, complete with prizes for the best costumes. Attendees will also receive discount passes to the 13th Floor Haunted House in Denver.
The game's three stars were