Denver's Luke Salazar Strikes Again to Doom Michigan Tech
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
ST. PAUL, Minn. After his game-winning goal in overtime last Sunday against Wisconsin, Denver coach George Gwozdecky referred to senior forward Luke Salazar as the Pioneers' "resident hero."
Thursday afternoon in St. Paul, the rest of the WCHA found out why.
With DU trailing late in the third period, Salazar capped a 3-on-2 break with his fourth goal in five games, tying the score with 4:32 remaining in overtime, before Jason Zucker's goal early in overtime gave DU the 3-2 victory over Michigan Tech.
All four of those goals have come in crunch-time — two game-winners and a pair of game-tyers. Salazar, always quiet and humble, said he was just lucky.
"We've been down or tied late the last few games," said Salazar, who was obviously uncomfortable by the lights and media attention. "We don't want to change our game-plan."
Gwozdecky smirked at the thought, before correcting Salazar a couple of minutes later.
"Certainly, I'd like to disagree with Luke Salazar in one area: I'd like to be able to change the game-plan a little bit. Perhaps try, if we're going to win a game, maybe win it in the third period."
For as quiet as Salazar is, he certainly speaks loudly on the ice. Now in his final season at DU, Salazar is often overshadowed. His freshman season, he played on a line with Tyler Bozak, who left after that year for the NHL. He's played with the likes of Rhett Rakhshani and Tyler Ruegsegger. Now, he's often overshadowed by Zucker and Drew Shore.
But that seems fine with Salazar.
"He's not a great talker," Gwozdecky said. "He's probably the most quiet guy in our locker room. He's probably he most quiet guy we've had in our locker room in years. But certainly his play and his stick talk for him."
It hasn't always been easy for Salazar either. He became a great story as a walk-on freshman, having a remarkable year. But he all but disappeared from the scoresheet during his sophomore season.
"When he was a freshman, he was pretty one dimensional," Gwozdecky said. "He was a guy that kinda hung out on the perimeter. We stuck him with Tyler Bozak and Bozak would give him the puck and he would bury it. The first three months of his freshman season, everybody was saying 'Who's this Salazar kid? We've never heard of him before.'"
After Bozak left, Salazar struggled. He goal total from his freshman year to his sophomore year dropped from 15 to one. After a 25-point maiden campaign, Salazar scored just five points his second year. As he struggled, his playing time dropped.
"When Bozak went down with an injury and when he left, it was a struggle for Luke because he had to become better away from the puck," Gwozdecky said. "He had to learn how to do a lot of things in our own zone that he had never been asked to do in junior hockey."
To his credit, Gwozdecky said, Salazar has worked extremely hard at becoming a more well-rounded hockey player. Last season, Salazar scored a career high 17 goals. This season, he's got 12 — but they seem to come at the most important of times.
"He calls himself lucky, but I don't think a guy who scores that many game-winning goals that late in the game can be lucky," said Drew Shore. "He does it time and time again. He's a great finisher around the net, I don't know if I've ever played with a guy who's been able to score that many big goals in his career."
But it didn't come easy. And it didn't come without hardship. And Gwozdecky said he's pleased with the example Salazar has set in the process.
"To his credit, he's worked very hard at it. It hasn't been easy for him, at times it's been very frustrating for him. There has been times where he hasn't played a whole lot," Gwozdecky said. "But it's really great to see the effort and work he's put in to be able to have it all start to bear fruit towards the end of his senior year.
"It's a great example of, if you keep hanging in there and you keep working, good things are going to happen."