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Scary injury halts Denver goalie's sizzling start

by James Murphy /
University of Denver goaltender Marc Cheverie is off to an outstanding start this season, with a 4-0-0 record, 1.27 goals-against average, .959 save percentage and three shutouts. He is the national leader in wins, GAA and save percentage, and is a surprise early-season Hobey Baker candidate. Headed into this weekend's action, he and the Pioneers were ranked No. 3 in the Top 10 Poll and sat in a three-way tie atop the WCHA, with archrival Colorado College and North Dakota.

Instead of getting ready to help his team try and take over first place in the WCHA with a two-game set against the Fighting Sioux, however, Cheverie is at home nursing what thankfully wasn't a career-ending injury.

Oct. 30 should have been a night of celebration for Cheverie, even though his team lost to Minnesota State, 4-3. Cheverie came into the game with three consecutive shutouts and a chance to set the school record for consecutive shutout minutes, held by former Pioneers goalie Peter Mannino. Cheverie did just that, pushing the mark to 223:51 -- eclipsing Mannino's record of 208:42 set in 2005. Cheverie was finally scored on 32 seconds into the second period to break his streak.

But instead of at least being able to savor his shutout record after the game, Cheverie was in a hospital having his leg sewn back together with 40 stitches after suffering a very scary injury 2:31 into the third period. On a collision in front of the net, Minnesota State forward Justin Jokinen slid into the Denver goaltender skates first. Jokinen's right skate clipped Cheverie's exposed calf and cut open his leg, causing severe bleeding. Cheverie stayed down on the ice and initially didn't even realize the severity of the injury until a referee pointed out that he was bleeding and cut badly. He and a shocked crowd would soon find out this was not a typical bump or bruise. 

"I just thought it was a stick and didn't really know until the ref told me I was bleeding," he said. "It really hurt and felt like a crowbar hit me but I just figured it was a normal injury. I was a little worried when it first happened because usually when you get hurt, you feel it and then it goes away pretty quickly. But my pain wasn't going away and I knew something was wrong. Then the referee told me that I was bleeding and cut badly. I looked down and saw the wound and the blood and it didn't look good."

The Denver University and Magness Arena medical staff immediately rushed out to attend to Cheverie. He was taken off on a stretcher and thoroughly checked out before being sent to the hospital to be stitched up.

"Luckily the medical staff here is so good and they got to me right away," Cheverie said. "They took me in and made sure all the nerves were OK and did what they could to stop the bleeding, then took me to the hospital where I got stitched up. It's sore now, but obviously I'm pretty lucky because it could've been worse. The doctors and everyone involved did a great job."

In his absence, the Pioneers and freshman goalie Adam Murray (who replaced Cheverie) have struggled and immediately realized just how valuable the junior netminder has become.

"Without a doubt he has been our best player up until this point," Denver coach George Gwozdecky said of Cheverie. "In every game he has played, he's giving us a chance to win. I don't think as a team we've played that well in front of him on a consistent basis and he's maybe made us look better than we played certain times."

Gwozdecky has been impressed with the team's work ethic in practice and games but the Pioneers still aren't quite where they need to be in the eyes of the most recent coach to reach the 500-win plateau. Denver's last game was a 7-2 loss at Alaska-Anchorage -- a game that showed the coach there still is work to be done.

"I think we're getting better every day but there's no question when we blow up, we blow up good," he said. "So like I said, he (Cheverie) has corrected a lot of mistakes we've made or saved us from ourselves a bit and made us look a little better than we actually are at this point."

During his recovery, Cheverie has had plenty of time to reflect on why he got off to such a great start and what he needs to do to maintain his success.

"I'm just happy with my approach to each game so far, trying not to take anything for granted and appreciating my playing time more," he said. "You never want to go home and say maybe I would've played better if I was more mentally prepared. I had a really good season last year with that preparation and I was able to build off that."

One area of his technical game that Cheverie has worked hard at improving has been limiting second chances. According to the Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, native, Denver assistant coach Derek Lalonde has done a great job of making that become second nature for the Florida Panthers prospect.

"My strong point has always been my feet, but I haven't always been strong on rebound control and that's getting better," Cheverie said. "We've been practicing that a lot and so much so you almost feel like a robot because you just do it and don't even think about it anymore. I think I've improved so much on that from my freshman year and it's been like night and day."

Gwozdecky has noticed an overall improvement as well and credited Cheverie for the patience and hard work he's displayed in his first three seasons of college hockey.

"He's certainly progressed over the course of his three years here with us," Gwozdecky said. "When you keep in mind that as a freshman he barely played since our go-to guy was Peter Mannino, Marc played probably a total of five games his freshman year, so going into his sophomore year there was a question mark as to if he would be ready for the amount of games we were going to give him. But he answered that in a big way and was phenomenal. He really continued to get better and still does every day.

"I really have to say that Derek Lalonde, our assistant coach that has worked with our goalies, has done a great job with Marc -- and Marc has been a very hungry learner and very coachable young guy. That's a great combination when you include his athletic ability and his competitive nature."

A certain NHL superstar has noticed Cheverie's improvement as well and believes he has a bright future ahead.

"I got to play with Marc over the summer and yeah, he's a really good goalie," Pittsburgh Penguins captain and fellow Cole Harbour native Sidney Crosby told recently. "He's a great kid and I think he's got a bright future."

So for now, Cheverie, who in the words of Gwozdecky, is expected to miss a "minimum" of two more weeks, will be there for the freshman Murray and his teammates as he recovers. Cheverie is itching to get back in, but he knows his support can help the team.

"For myself, I'm already ready mentally and already played the game in my head 100 times and I've already made like 500 saves," he said. "I'm constantly thinking about the next game and this has really been the longest week of my life. But I just really want to help the guys as much as I can right now and keep them upbeat. I'm here for them if they need me and I'm just waiting to get back in there and help the team as much as I can."

On Campus Clips --  It was birds of a feather as two Falcons teams squared off in Colorado Springs last weekend in a two-game set between Atlantic Conference rivals Air Force and Bentley. Air Force erased a 3-1 deficit to come back and earn a tie Friday night and then shut out Bentley on Saturday behind a 27-save performance from Andrew Volkening. The win moved Air Force into first place in the Atlantic Conference. ... Air Force also signed head coach Frank Serratore to a new five-year contract that will keep him behind the Falcons’ bench through the 2013-14 season, the school announced Monday. Serratore, who is in his 13th season with Air Force, has led the Falcons to three-straight NCAA tournament appearances. He has a 200-216-32 overall record at the Academy and led the team to a program-best 28 wins last season. ... Alaska-Anchorage may be 4-6-0 (2-4-0 WCHA) headed into a two-game set at Wisconsin this weekend, but it has proven to be upset specialists so far, knocking off two undefeated clubs. The Seawolves knocked off North Dakota on Oct. 24 and most recently throttled Denver, 7-3, last Saturday. ... Minnesota forward Jay Barriball will have season-ending surgery to repair a knee injury he suffered in practice on Tuesday, the school announced Thursday. Barriball, a senior, is eligible to apply to the NCAA for a medical hardship waiver. If approved, he would be able to play another season in college. His surgery is scheduled for Friday. Barriball had four points through five games this season. In 124 career games for the Golden Gophers, he has registered 39 goals and 102 points. ... Key games this week: RIT at Mercyhurst; Cornell at Yale; Michigan at Michigan State; Bemidji at Minnesota and Vermont at Boston College.

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