Marquette and Denver traded goals for the final 34 minutes on Saturday afternoon, but the #4 ranked Pioneers were already up 2-0 by the time that started, and thus, MU dropped their regular season finale by a score of 7-4.
That’s fine, even if it did drop MU to 6-7 on the season. In fact, it’s a pretty solid accomplishment, all things told. Coming into the game, Denver had an average margin of victory in their games this season of just under five goals per game, and they averaged over 12.5 goals per contest. Managing just four goals is never anyone’s idea of fun, of course, but if you scrap with the #4 team in the country and hold them to nearly half of their usual output and only fall by three, that’s not the worst outcome in the world.
You knew we were in for a low scoring game when the horn sounded after the first 15 minutes with just one goal on the board. It was still 1-0 when the midway point of the second quarter passed by, but Austin French quickly turned the game in the direction of the Pioneers. He scored two goals less than three minutes apart, and that had Denver up 3-0 with 3:53 left in the half, and for a blip, things went completely haywire in the scoring department. On the ensuing faceoff, Colin Riehl made up for his slashing penalty that led to French’s first goal by forcing a turnover from DU faceoff whiz Trevor Baptiste, and bounced a shot into the net for MU’s first goal. Baptiste took that one personally, as he scooped and scored just eight seconds later.
4-1 at the half, and it was quickly 4-2 in the third quarter when Zachary Melillo snagged the opening draw and scored his first goal of the season. It was also Marquette’s first face-off win of the day, and shouts to Melillo for taking advantage of finally putting one over on Baptiste, who is rapidly approaching the all-time record for faceoff winning percentage. All Marquette needed to do to pull the stunner at this point was just score back-to-back goals. That was a quest that eluded them, as Denver answered with Ethan Walker’s first of the game about 90 seconds later.
That was essentially the tale of the rest of the game. Marquette would score, Denver would answer. Not quickly, mind you, but they kept answering. Ryan Fazio scored just 30 seconds into the fourth quarter to make it a two goal game, but DU goalie Josh Matte notched three saves on MU’s remaining five shots in the frame to prevent another MU goal. Nate Marano scored at the 9:18 mark and that three goal margin ended up being enough for the Pioneers.
In the preview for this one, I figured that Marquette’s chances for victory were going to rest in the stick of Zachary Melillo. It seemed that he was going to need to battle Trevor Baptiste to keep the faceoff stats as close as possible. I was very wrong. Baptiste won 11 of the 13 faceoffs in the game. Instead, it was Marquette’s defense that told the tale. MU was the beneficiary of 14 Denver turnovers, with only four of those being recorded as forced by the Golden Eagles. Sure, MU turned it over 12 times themselves, but that’s still less than Denver. Cole Blazer was a major factor as well, recording an impressive 14 saves for the Golden Eagles. Eight of those came in the first half as Blazer fended off the Denver attack to keep Marquette in the game until the offense could get in gear.
Up Next: This game was house money for Marquette coming in, as they had already clinched a Big East tournament berth. If MU had won, they would have ended up sharing the regular season conference title with the Pios, but alas, it was not meant to be. Instead, Marquette will pack up their gear from the Mile High City, come back to Milwaukee for a brief re-fuel, and head out to Philadelphia for the Big East semifinals as the #4 seed...... where they will play #1 seeded Denver on Thursday afternoon. That might not sound like the best outcome after today’s result, but hey: MU has beaten Denver in each of the past two Big East tournaments, and they just showed that they can run with the Pios. Stranger things have happened.