MADISON, Wis. — The Kohl Center audience will not soon forget Friday’s game between the No. 2 Denver Pioneers (6-1-0, 1-0-0 WCHA) and the Wisconsin Badgers, even though it did not meet their desired result.
The Pioneers wrestled the lead from Wisconsin (4-3-0, 0-1-0 WCHA) at 18:46 of the first period and never looked back en route to a 5-3 victory.
Denver lived up to its high ranking by withstanding a furious third-period rally, a deafening crowd and a two-man disadvantage in the final minute.
“Going into the third period, when our backs were against the wall, we came out and we played harder than we had all game,” said Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves. “We gave ourselves a chance to get back in.”
“We have a bunch of new guys in the lineup, a brand-new coaching staff, not playing one of the same systems we played last year,” said Badger Alex Leavitt. “We’re not far behind these guys.”
A notable match up in this game was that of the All-WCHA goalies, UW’s Scott Kabotoff and Denver’s Wade Dubielewicz.
Dubielewicz (21 saves), one of the top-rated goalies in the nation, survived six penalty kills without giving up a goal. Kabotoff (27 saves) made key plays of his own, including one on a penalty kill in the third period that saw him make a glove save while down and sliding across the crease.
The first period saw three goals scored in the first 1:14 and consistent offensive pressure from both teams. Denver’s players came out strong, managing more shots on goal in the first (14) then in the rest of the game (13). After the initial offensive showcase, however, the goaltenders and defenses took things over.
Scoring started 28 seconds into the game when Leavitt sent a blistering shot at Dubielewicz, which was deflected by the goalie’s glove. While Dubielewicz was still down on the ice, Wisconsin’s Ryan MacMurchy sped towards the loose puck and sent it into the net before any of the Pioneers were able to react.
Badger fans were only allowed 26 seconds to enjoy their lead, however, due to a stellar offensive play by Denver. Defenseman Matt Laatsch fired a long-range shot towards Kabotoff that was redirected into the net by forward Max Bull, tying the game at one.
The PA announcer was hardly able to rattle off the first two goals before Denver took the lead. Pioneer Kevin Doell intercepted a pass around the faceoff circle, allowing him a clear lane to Kabotoff. Doell sent a wrister from the left side of the net that ended up in the top shelf for a 2-1 Denver lead.
“It’s a big game and I don’t think we”have that confidence to come out and play and take charge,” said Eaves.
Second-period scoring started early as well, with Denver taking a 3-1 lead only a half-minute in. Kevin Ulanski, a Madison native, carried the puck to the goalie crease before losing control. Kabotoff misjudged on his poke check and allowed the puck to slip between his legs.
“[Ulanski] never got the shot off; it just fell off his stick,” said Eaves. “It’s a calculated play by the goaltender and it didn’t work out.”
The Badgers, determined to stay in the game, scored at 16:11 of the second. Denver drew an early penalty for too many men on the ice, setting up UW on the power play. The Denver penalty kill continued its superb play and lasted the two minutes, exactly; The UW goal came the instant the man advantage ended.
The goal saw Leavitt pick up his second assist of the night by setting up an open Mark Jackson on the right side of the net. Jackson snapped the shot past Dubielewicz, who was partially screened, to narrow the Denver lead to one.
The Pioneers prevented any sort of momentum swing with a fourth goal at 7:56 of the second. Badger Erik Jensen drew a penalty for checking from behind, allowing Denver to show that it was just as skilled on the power play as on the penalty kill. Jeff Drummond sent a cross-ice pass to teammate Aaron MacKenzie, who subsequently wristed a quick shot into the side of the net, increasing his team’s lead to two goals.
The Badgers ignited their fans at 5:46 of the third period when Brad Winchester scored his fifth goal of the year. Dubielewicz, as a result of crowding around the crease, was unable to cover the loose puck and saw Winchester beat him to it.
“It wasn’t a pretty goal by any means,” Winchester said. “Just crashing the net and seeing what happens.”
Denver’s biggest scare came when the Badgers went on a power play, down one goal, with only 56 seconds to play. In what will go down as one of the stranger penalties of the year, DU’s Ryan Caldwell snatched the puck out of the air and proceeded to throw it across the rink. This resulted in a delay of game penalty that, in conjunction with UW pulling its goalie, gave the Badgers a 6-on-4 power play.
Several shots on goal, as well as a near miss, highlighted the Badger rally that ended only when Aaron MacKenzie scored his second goal of the night, an empty-netter with 27 seconds remaining. MacKenzie, attempting to clear his zone, sent the puck against the boards and watched as it deflected into the net.
“You build on the positives — there is a silver lining,” said Eaves. “I hope that the guys are looking forward to tomorrow already.”
Denver and Wisconsin will finish their weekend series Saturday night in Madison.