The Denver Pioneers were looking to rebound after a disappointing weekend, which saw them lose to both Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Fairbanks in overtime, both by 3-2 scores. The club welcomed Niagara and Canisius to Magness Arena on Friday and Saturday nights respectively. Earlier in the week, Denver head coach Jim Montgomery, announced that defenseman Josiah Didier, David Makowski, and Zac Larraza would sport the "C" throughout the season.
Didier suffered a knee injury last weekend and will be sidelined for a few weeks. Larraza has yet to play this season due to a broken clavicle he suffered in practice in late September. Makowski, a senior defenseman from St. Louis, MO, entered this weekend's games with two goals and an assist. He is expected to be a coveted free agent this spring.
The other big news for Denver this week was the announcement of the departure of associate coach Steve Miller. Miller has been named head coach to an expansion United States Hockey League club in Madison, WI. Miller, who is a native of Wisconsin, has been with DU for 19 seasons. The yet to be named team will begin play in 2014-15.
Despite it being homecoming weekend, the crowds at DU were fairly lackluster this weekend. The departure of George Gwozdecky is still being felt, at least in the stands. Denver's Friday tilt was against the Niagara Purple Eagles. The Eagles came into the game with a 1-2-1 record.
David Makowski had two goals and a helper to lead the Pioneers in a 5-1 victory over the Eagles. Coach Montgomery shook up the defensive pairings a bit, placing Will Butcher with the offensively gifted Joey LaLeggia. LaLeggia, who is property of the Edmonton Oilers, notched a goal and an assist on Friday evening.
Butcher assisted on Makowski's power play marker in the third period. Montgomery has thus far paired Butcher with guys like Makowski and LaLeggia who love to jump up into the play. Butcher's patience with the puck and ability to get the puck out of tough areas have been his early strengths to start off the season.
Saturday's homecoming game against winless Canisius told an entirely different story. Denver fell behind 1-0 in the first period after a point shot by Cody Freeman beat Sam Brittain. Brittain entered the contest with a 3-1 record and goals against average of 0.99. Yet, Saturday night proved to be a tough one for him.
The Pioneers had good energy throughout the game, but were either too fancy with the puck or just could not connect on their opportunities. The Griffins managed to create a few of their own. A dangerous pass on the power play, near the blueline by Joey LaLeggia, was broken up by Kyle Gibbons and led to a short-handed marker for Canisius.
Minutes later, a great individual effort by Mathew Backhouse gave the Griffins a 3-0 lead. However, it is a goal that Sam Brittain would most certainly want back. Brittain's counterpart, Keegan Asmundson was a wall in net. He had some great support from the defenders in front of him who frustrated Denver with their positioning and shot blocking prowess.
The Griffins were more focused throughout the game. The Pioneers, while the more talented team, were beaten by the harder working Griffins and that determination was the difference in the game. That, and the stellar goaltending from Asmundson.
Denver found some life past the midway point in the third when Quentin Shore tipped a Nolan Zajac shot passed Asmundson on the power play. The Pioneers managed to regain momentum, but were unable to capitalize on any more of their opportunities. The Griffins sealed the game with an empty net tally to end any hopes of a comeback. They earned a 4-1 upset win over the Pioneers.
Will Butcher had five shots in the game. He certainly could of had more as he missed the net high on at least a couple of chances.
The Pioneers will open their National Collegiate Hockey Conference schedule next weekend when they play host to the Nebraska Omaha Mavericks. After six games, Denver has a 3-3 record.