“We definitely had a bad taste in our mouth,” said senior attackman Jimmy Bitter. “We really wanted to get one against them.”
Bitter is one of nine seniors that have seen Denver end the Tar Heels national championship hopes three seasons in a row. If UNC had a monkey on its back, Denver was more like a silver back gorilla.
The Pioneers looked strong in the first half, getting out to a 4-1 lead before heading into halftime up 5-3.
Coach Joe Breschi made a halftime switch between the pipes, replacing redshirt freshman Brian Balkam with junior Kieran Burke. A Denver goal just 26 seconds into the third quarter put the Pioneers ahead 6-3 with seemingly all of the momentum.
“We wanted to stick to what we do and felt like we were getting caught up in what they were doing,” Breschi said. “I love the way we responded. There was no hiccup there. We just kept playing and the guys turned it on. It was almost like a wake up call on that particular play.”
What followed was a scoring run so fast that a trip to the bathroom and back would have had you asking if there was a scoreboard problem.
Sophomore midfielder Peyton Klawinski scored his eighth goal of the season with 12:28 left in the third quarter to cut Denver’s lead to 6-4.
Eighteen seconds later, sophomore attackman Luke Goldstock netted his first of two goals. The Denver lead was just one.
A Denver slashing penalty on the ensuing faceoff put the Tar Heels a man up, and 12 seconds into the penalty senior Chad Tutton scored from Bitter on one of his three goals. In less than a minute, the Denver lead and momentum was gone.
Twelve second passed before sophomore midfielder Tate Jozokos beat Denver goalkeeper Ryan LaPlante to give the Tar Heels their first lead of the game. Another goal on a Bitter to Tutton connection capped the 5-0 that took less than three minutes.
“We just fought and scrapped and that momentum was huge,” sophomore midfielder Stephen Kelly said. Senior defenseman Jake Bailey sealed the deal with just over a minute to play, putting UNC ahead 12-10 on his first goal of the season.
Game over. Monkey gone.
“It’s February. They’re going to be better down the road and so will we,” Breschi said. “But at the end of the day, it was a good hard fought February win, and I’m proud of our guys for finishing strong and finishing the game because they’re a talented group — no question.”