Lakers play Pioneers hard and close in 3-1 loss

Ashton Calder attempts to bring the puck around Denver’s Ian Mitchell in the third period. Calder had the lone goal for the Lakers, as they fell to the Pioneers 3-1 (Mike Barrett/LHB)

Going up against one of the top teams in the nation, Lake Superior State gave the Denver Pioneers all they could handle, but came up short nonetheless on Great Lake State Weekend in a 3-1 loss Friday night.

Ranked No. 2 in the nation coming into the series, the Pioneers (3-0-0, 0-0-0 NCHC) picked up their third straight win against a Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) team, after sweeping Alaska last weekend.

Unlike the trip the Lakers made to Denver two seasons ago, which saw the host Pioneers figuratively skate circles around Damon Whitten’s squad, Lake Superior (2-1-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) managed to skate well with the visitors, playing them hard until the final horn.

Ashton Calder got Lake Superior on the board first with a shorthanded goal on a breakaway that resulted in the Pios drawing a penalty.  Despite picking up three power plays, the host Lakers had a difficult time generating zone pressure.

The second period saw the Pioneers begin pressuring Lake Superior hard.  Although the team weathered the storm, including shutting down the Denver power play, the Lakers surrendered a goal by Ian Mitchell just 14 seconds after the expiration of a Laker penalty taken by Miroslav Mucha, setting up the teams for a tense third period.

Although Lake Superior played arguably its best period of the young season, Denver tallied two goals in the final stanza, including the game winner by Emilio Pettersen at 7:15 of the period, and the nail in the coffin from Jaakko Heikkinen on a shorthanded chance with just 1:04 left to play.

Despite the setback, the Lakers made a Hurculean attempt at a comeback, pulling Mareks Mitens and pressing hard.  Although they had difficulty getting chances, they prevented the Pioneers from hitting the empty net a couple of times, preserving the 3-1 final score.

In goal for the Lakers, Mitens made 26 saves on 29 shots.  In the other crease, Magnus Chrona earned the win with 23 saves on 24 chances.

When the Lakers last played Denver, Mitens, who started the Saturday night game of the series, saw 54 shots — substantially fewer than tonight, which serves as a testament to Lake Superior limiting the Pioneers’ chances.

The two teams will conclude their series tomorrow night with a 7:07 p.m. puck drop.