Netminder Sets Record in Leading Denver Through Another OT Thriller
by Eric Stromgren/CHN Writer
ST. PAUL, Minn. 8-23-16-16-4.
Those lottery-style numbers added up to goalie Sam Brittain's record save total in Denver's 4-3 double overtime victory over Minnesota-Duluth in Friday afternoon's Final Five semifinal at Xcel Energy Center.
Brittain's 67 total saves broke Edina native Pat Tierney's Denver mark of 59 set in a December 1983 game against North Dakota.
"That's a very, very prestigious honor especially with the names that have come through here and I'm very fortunate to have done that," said Brittain, a sophomore. "Obviously all the credit and thanks go to my teammates — my defense and forwards tonight — they were awesome."
Denver is becoming familiar with overtime in the playoffs. The Pioneers defeated Michigan Tech 3-2 in overtime Thursday night at the Final Five and have played five of the last eight postseason games in overtime dating back to last season.
Of those five games, three have been played in double overtime and Denver's 3-2 double-overtime loss to North Dakota in last year's Final Five was the longest game in tournament history until Friday afternoon.
Brittain was the goalie of record in both double-overtime marathons. The Calgary native said some feelings from last year's game against North Dakota were stirred up playing against Duluth.
"Going that long with our backs against the wall, it was do or die," Brittain said. "I like the outcome a little bit more this year."
Playing at the Final Five in St. Paul brings Brittain's journey back from a devastating injury full circle. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus in his left knee was torn during the Final Five loss to North Dakota last season and he played in Denver's two NCAA Tournament games without knowing the extent of the injury.
Brittain's status for a return this season was questionable following knee surgery in June.
But he battled through the rehab, recovered and returned to the team after missing the first 25 games. Brittain said Friday's game was the most his knee was tested since returning to the lineup.
He improved to 8-3-0 this season with the win and has a .931 save percentage, up from the .921 percentage he posted last season when he was named to the All-WCHA Rookie Team.
"It's definitely been a tough road personally with the surgery and coming back," Brittain said. "But it's been great the last few weeks. The team is hitting our stride and things are looking great for our potential big run."
Brittain said he would like to play in Saturday's Final Five championship though the decision is now in head coach George Gwozdecky's hands, who admitted he has a tough call to make in the next 24 hours.
Gwozdecky said he is considering starting Thursday night's starter freshman Juho Olkinuora (9-7-3) or junior Adam Murray (8-2-1).
"My thinking right now is that it would be difficult for us to come back with Sam tomorrow night with the workload he had tonight," Gwozdecky said. "It's not out of the realm of possibility, but we're going to be looking at Murray or Olkinoura for tomorrow night's game. "
Denver moved up into a tie for sixth place in the Pairwise after defeating Minnesota-Duluth. With an NCAA Tournament appearance on the horizon regardless of Saturday night's result, Brittain talked about what will motivate the Pioneers in the championship when the puck drops for their 10th period of hockey since Thursday night.
"I think we just never give up," Brittain said. "We battle hard not matter what game it is. This is our third straight overtime game if you go back to the Wisconsin series. It's just a drive to never lose and that's the biggest thing with this team."