Olkinuora Standing Out
Big Performance Helps Denver Break Out of Slump
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
DENVER It would be reasonable to think, after a trip home to Helsinki, Finland, for the holidays, that Denver netminder Juho “Jussi” Olkinuora might have suffered from some jet lag.
But returning to Denver the day after Christmas, nine time zones behind local Helsinki time, Olkinuora felt he didn’t need any rest at all.
“It was a good thing to get a mental break,” said the sophomore goaltender of the time he spent with his family and friends back home. “I came back on Wednesday and went straight to practice. I think I slept 15 hours two nights ago and felt really good today. So, no complaints at all.”
Well-rested, in his first game action in over two weeks – a 1-1 tie at Bemidji State – Olkinuora put on a show Saturday night against Boston University, making 29 saves to backstop the Pioneers to a 6-0 win, putting an end to two notable streaks. It was the first time since November 6, 2008 that Boston University had been shut out. The win halted Denver’s eight game winless (0-5-3) streak, its longest in 13 years.
And though the Pioneers won the game 6-0, Denver coach George Gwozdecky pointed out that the game was much closer than the score indicated – due in large part to a number of potentially game-altering saves made by his Finnish goaltender through the course of the game.
Explained Gwozdecky, “We’re up 4-0 [at the start of the third period], and they get two unbelievable scoring chances on breakaways where we just completely fell asleep. They create chances, and Olkinuora makes great saves.
“Who knows how the game goes from that point on if they score one or two of those?”
“What ifs, what ifs,” said Olkinuora, in reference to his back-to-back breakaway stops on the Terriers’ Danny O’Regan and Evan Rodrigues early in the third period. “I felt good out there, and they didn’t score [on them]. It feels good, obviously. I don’t think that stat of them not being shut out means too much to me, but obviously a shutout feels good for me personally.”
Olkinuora has split time in net this season with accomplished teammates Sam Brittain and Adam Murray. But it has been Olkinuora who has outplayed the other two, allowing two goals or less in seven of his eight starts. The sophomore ranks ninth in the nation in goals-against average (1.69) and fourth in save percentage (.944), and in addition to the aforementioned saves, he added additional standing ovation-inducing third period breakaway stops on Rodrigues and Garrett Noonan to preserve the shutout.
“He was very good, and that game might be different if it weren’t for his outstanding play,” reiterated Gwozdecky, who recently told Mike Chambers of The Denver Post that Olkinuora may have been the best midsummer addition in his 19 years with the program.
Still, Gwozdecky has been hesitant to name a definitive No. 1 starter so far, understandable given the depth of goaltending on the team. Brittain, after all, was a fourth-round NHL draft pick of the Florida Panthers, and before sitting out 25 games last season with a knee injury was an all-WCHA selection the season before as a rookie. And Murray, now a senior, posted an 8-2-1 record just a year ago.
So the question naturally arose after Saturday’s dominant performance against the Terriers, a team that in recent weeks has defeated two different No. 1 ranked teams (New Hampshire, Boston College): does Olkinuora feel he’s earned the spot as the team’s unquestioned starter?
“No, not at all,” insisted Olkinuora, whose team-oriented personality may come from his upbringing with six siblings. “With those two guys behind me – or not even behind me, next to me – there are no days off. It’s one game at a time and I’m totally serious when I say that.
“Of course, every goalie wants to play every game. We’re really good buddies off the ice and on the ice. But there is competition every day, from the first minute of practice to the last minute. I enjoy it, and they enjoy it too.”
Next up for Denver is a home two-game series against Cornell – the first meeting between the two one-time rivals (with the Pioneers topping the Big Red in the 1969 national title game and Cornell returning the favor at the 1972 Frozen Four) since 1986 and an intriguing matchup between two programs known historically for their goaltending prowess.
“We’ll know by Thursday who’s going to play on Friday night [against Cornell],” said Gwozdecky after Olkinuora’s performance against Boston University. “It certainly looks like Olkinuora. We’re all smart enough to see how Olkinuora has played over the last month and a half.
“Certainly, at this point in time, my thinking is that he will probably be the odds on favorite to get the start next Friday night.”