ST. PAUL, Minn. Every Michigan Tech hockey coach and player was participating in his first WCHA Final Five Thursday afternoon, but unfortunately for the Huskies, it was another first that made it Tech's last game of the season.
Tech entered the Xcel Energy Center with a 4-0-4 overtime record this season and a 16-game unbeaten streak in the extra session dating back to 2009, but No. 9 Denver ended that streak and Tech's season with a 3-2 OT win in front of 11,489 fans.
"We put ourselves in a good position. It was a one-shot game in overtime," Tech coach and WCHA Coach of the Year Mel Pearson said. "I don't think anyone would have thought that a year ago that we'd be here playing a top-10 team that we'd have a chance for one shot to win it in overtime.
"I'm just extremely proud of our players," he added. "I thought our guys did a great job and had a really good first period."
Tech outshot Denver 12-10 in the opening stanza, but it was the Pioneers who struck first just 3:50 in. Ty Loney collected a Drew Shore pass from behind the net and beat Josh Robinson low and just inside the right post.
But Tech bounced back and, despite several missed shots, carried play most of the period. Blake Pietila finally tied the game at the 10:45 mark, breaking in all alone from blue line and finishing with a nifty backhand-to-forehand move past DU goaltender Juho Olkinuora.
Michigan Tech 1 0 1 0 - 2
Denver 1 0 1 1 - 3
First period - 1, DEN, Ty Loney (Drew Shore), 3:50; 2, MTU, Blake Pietila 10 (Justin Fillion), 10:45. Penalties - Nate Dewhurst, DEN (hooking), 16:56.
Second period No scoring. Penalties - TEAM, DEN (too many players on ice), 4:05; Daniel Sova, MTU (interference), 16:05.
Third period - 3, MTU, Ryan Furne 12 (Jordan Baker), 0:18; 4, DEN, Luke Salazar (Loney, D. Shore), 15:28. Penalties Dustin Jackson, DEN (unsportsmanlike conduct), 1:49; Daniel Sova, MTU (unsportsmanlike conduct), 1:49; Nate Dewhurst, DEN (interference), 8:34.
Overtime - 5, DEN, Jason Zucker (Joey LaLeggia, Nick Shore), 2:18. No penalties.
Goalies MTU, Josh Robinson (44 shots, 41 saves); DEN, Juho Olkinuora (29 shots, 27 saves). Attendance 11,489. Time - 2:40.
The Pioneers then responded in the second period, peppering Tech goaltender Josh Robinson relentlessly, but the senior stopped all 16 shots he faced in the middle frame. Several saves were of the magnificent variety, including three in a row on Nick Shore from point blank late in the period.
"Robo played one of the best games he's played all year he made some really huge saves," Tech defenseman Steven Seigo said.
Big glove save. Check. Lightning quick pad save. Check. Diving across the crease save. Check. When all was said and done, Robinson saved a season-high 41 shots in the losing effort, and he finishes his career with the most season wins (15) by a Tech goaltender since Jamie Ram in 1992-93.
"I was just trying to keep the puck out of the net any way I could but unfortunately we didn't get the result we wanted," he said.
For a while, though, it looked like Tech would win its first Final Five game in 15 years.
The Huskies held a third-period lead for 15 minutes after Ryan Furne scored just 18 seconds after second intermission with a left-circle wrister that found its way just under Olkinuora's right armpit.
But Luke Salazar, who tallied DU's OT winner against Wisconsin to get the Pioneers to the Final Five, tied the game with 4:32 remaining.
"We've been down or tied in the third period in the last few games and we don't want to change our game plan, just keep playing," Salazar said. "I've just been lucky the past few games."
Salazar's goal was more than luck, though. It was a textbook bang-bang-bang 3-on-2 passing play that Robinson had no chance to save.
The overtime winner, on the other hand, may have involved some luck. A bouncing puck from the point found its way onto Jason Zucker's stick on the back door and he found the back of the net just 2:18 into the extra session.
"If we're going to try and win the game, we would like for it to be in the third period but we've got guys like Jason Zucker, Drew Shore and Luke Salazar who are finding ways to help us win games late in the game," Denver coach George Gwozdecky said.
Denver faces defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth in today's Final Five semifinal, while North Dakota will face rival Minnesota in the other semi battling for a spot in Saturday's championship.
Tech finishes its 91st college hockey season and Pearson's first season as a head coach with a 16-19-4 record and bids farewell to six seniors: Robinson, Brett Olson, Jordan Baker, Bryce Reddick, Alex MacLeod and Corson Cramer.
"It was a great experience actually being able to come here and see what's it's like to play in the Final Five at the same time it's a little disappointing, a little bitter sweet," said Olson, Tech's two-year captain, who led the team this season with 30 points. "Looking back we gave it a heck of a run. I'm just really proud of our guys for the effort we put in and all the things we've done to put Tech back on the map."