March 23, 2012 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Insult to Injury

Depleted Denver Comes Up Short in First Round

by Zach Helfand/CHN Reporter

GREEN BAY, Wis. — At 10 a.m. this morning, six and a half hours before his team was scheduled to face off with Ferris State, Denver coach Geroge Gwozdecky sat down with six of his players after their morning skate, one-by-one.

For each player, Gwozdecky needed to make a decision: was he healthy enough to play?

All that was missing was a stethoscope.

Of Gwozdecky’s six injured players, three — Jason Zucker, Chris Knowlton and Josiah Didier — managed to make the start in their matchup against Ferris State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Ferris State triumphed, 2-1, and in that loss, Denver’s injuries showed.

Gwozdecky used Beau Bennett and David Makowski as examples.

“Those are examples of two pretty good players that we didn’t have in our lineup,” he said. “You take two key guys out like that, I thought our team did a pretty good darn job.”

And he was referring to the fight his team showed for the year as a whole. At the end of 2011, Denver was struggling, and found itself on the outside of the NCAA Tournament picture looking in.

But after fighting their way into the tournament, Gwozdecky was still left with six game-time decisions on the eve of the Ferris State game.

Worst of all, the status of leading goal-scorer, Zucker, remained unclear until his name appeared in the line charts on Friday.

Late in a losing effort against North Dakota in the championship game of the WCHA Final Five, Zucker fell awkwardly on his left arm, pinning it against the ice.

Zucker did play on Friday and managed seven shots, but he was visibly not at full strength.

Down by one goal late in the third period, Zucker cut across the slot with a look on the goal.

“(And) he just couldn’t shoot the puck,” Gwozdecky said. “Here’s a guy that’s got maybe the best shot in the WCHA if not in the West, and he had no power on his shots so he was looking to pass it.”

Just to be ready for Friday’s game, Zucker said he spent countless hours working with the trainer. Zucker’s criteria was simple:

“(To) be able to shoot,” Zucker said.

Without Zucker at full strength, though, the stout Ferris State defense stifled Denver, which couldn’t generate anything offensively. The Pioneers failed to create the transition opportunities where they can be so dangerous.

Drew Shore capitalized on a rare defensive breakdown six minutes into the third period, beating Ferris State goaltender Taylor Nelson with a deke to his backhand, to finally put Denver on the board. But by that time, the Pioneers had already surrendered two goals of their own.

In the second, Ferris State’s Garrett Thompson skated the puck into the zone and along the boards into the corner. Denver left Jordie Johnston all alone near the crease, and Thompson found him for an easy goal.

Third-line defenseman Simon Denis wristed one in from between the circles in the third to give Ferris State a two-goal advantage and to earn himself his first career goal.

But defensively, it was a successful game for the Pioneers. After all, every last Denver win this season has come when the Pioneers have scored three goals or more. On Friday, they could manage just one, despite a furious flurry late in the third period that created several scoring opportunities.

And Nelson denied every serious threat Denver could muster. The senior netminder turned away all but one of Denver’s 25 shots.

After the game, Zucker, a sophomore, and Drew Shore, a junior, declined to comment on their futures at Denver.

“I think I can speak for either of us, that’s not a thing I think either of us have thought about,” Shore said. “We were focused on the game today and obviously didn’t get it done.”

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