COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Earlier this season, No. 5 Wisconsin welcomed No. 1 Colorado College and sent its WCHA rival home with a lone point in two games. Despite reversed poll positions, the result remained much the same on Friday night, as the No. 1 Badgers knocked off the No. 5 Tigers, 3-2, at the Colorado Springs World Arena.
In front of a hostile crowd, Wisconsin (17-2-2, 12-1-2 WCHA) rode the strong play of its power play and goaltender Brian Elliott to a dominating six-point lead in the league after 15 games.
After an opening two minutes filled with some delicious dishes and meaty hits, Wisconsin got on the board first thanks to a pair of juicy rebounds surrendered by Colorado College goaltender Matt Zaba. Badger Matthew Ford fired a long slap shot from the neutral zone that the Tigers netminder kicked out to the high slot. Zaba turned aside a second shot from Jake Dowell, but Wisconsin’s A.J. Degenhardt located the loose rubber once again and buried his chance to give the visitors an early 1-0 lead.
Zaba settled down quickly and made a key save six minutes later with his team shorthanded. Wisconsin assistant captain Andrew Joudrey jumped into the Colorado College end on a late shift and fired a tape-to-tape pass to Jack Skille who was parked at the far post. Zaba kept his paddle to the ice, however, turning aside Skille’s point-blank stuff attempt.
Badgers goaltender Elliott matched his counterpart 12 minutes into the opening period with a flurry of saves. The junior netminder, who has played every minute between the pipes for Wisconsin this season, stopped three Tigers chances while sprawled on the ice to keep his team in the lead.
“He’s got the advantage of being a bigger man,” said Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves. “He can really extend his reach, and as people crowd him he can hold his position because of his size. That’s not something you can teach. It’s who he is.”
Colorado College (17-7-1, 9-5-1) tied the game at 14:23 with a power-play goal from Brett Sterling. College hockey’s goal-scoring leader (22) jammed a rebound under Elliott off of a Joey Crabb snap shot to knot the score at 1-1. The Tigers have now scored a goal with the man advantage in their last 13 games.
Wisconsin reclaimed the lead with less than 30 seconds remaining in the first period with a power-play goal of its own. Tom Gilbert’s long wrist shot directed off of a Colorado College stick, clanged off the iron and rattled into the net for his fifth tally of the season.
“We’ve been scoring 5-on-5, but we wanted to get our power play going,” said Gilbert. “It worked out tonight, because we were moving the puck really well and getting a lot of rebounds.”
Zaba sparkled early in the second period, keeping the Wisconsin lead at 2-1 through a strong Badgers power-play opportunity. The Tigers netminder turned aside five quality chances generated by the visitors, including a rebound chance from the doorstep by an uncontested Joudrey.
“Mr. Zaba was one of their better penalty killers tonight as well,” said Eaves. “He stopped a lot of pucks. We moved the puck well and created a lot of chances, and I think we’ll find that most of our chances tonight were created on the power play.”
Elliott once again answered Zaba with a fine display 14 minutes into the middle frame. After denying a tough redirection, Elliot quickly regrouped to knock down a rebound effort by crashing Tiger defenseman Jack Hillen. The Badger goalie jumped on the loose puck, limiting Colorado College’s second-chance opportunities as he did for most of the night.
Despite outplaying Colorado College for large portions of the second period and creating numerous chances with an efficient power play, Wisconsin failed to pad its lead in the second period, carrying a 2-1 edge into the final twenty minutes.
The Badgers capitalized on a power-play at 13:19 of the third to gain its elusive two-goal lead over the Tigers, however. Joe Pavelski’s long slap shot was redirected in front by Wisconsin captain Adam Burish over the right shoulder of Zaba for the eventual game-winning goal.
“My job is to get in front of the net,” said Burish of his goal. “Sometimes it banks off of me or tips off of me. Half the time I have no idea. I just get to the front.”
Colorado College drew within one less than three minutes later with its second power-play goal of the night. Crabb buried a one-timer attempt from the left dot to continue his hot streak. The senior now has 22 points (8-14) in his last 13 games.
Zaba struggled valiantly to keep his team alive in the third period, fending off several Badgers prime chances including a shorthanded breakaway opportunity. But Elliott played near-flawless hockey, denying Colorado College on a myriad of late shots including a doorstep jam attempt by the ever-dangerous Sterling.
“These games are fun to play,” said Eaves with a grin on his face. “These games help you prepare for the end of the year. You don’t have to work at getting ready for games like this, because the emotion is already there.”
The two teams will meet again tomorrow night in what promises to be an equally wide-open and quick-paced affair. Puck drop will be 7:07 p.m. MST.