College Hockey:
Denver Continues Mastery At Kohl Center

— When the 2007-08 WCHA conference schedule is released next summer, Denver head coach George Gwozdecky and the Pioneers might try to locate when they travel to the Kohl Center to take on the Badgers.

Whether it’s something in the water in the Midwest or just dumb luck, Denver can seem to do no wrong in Madison, even when things aren’t clicking.

Denver’s Ryan Dingle scored two goals and assisted on Rhett Rakhshani’s game winning goal in overtime to propel the Pioneers (6-4-0, 4-2-0 WCHA) over the desperate Badgers (4-6-2, 3-4-1 WCHA) with a 4-3 overtime shocker. With the victory, Denver completed its third series sweep at the Kohl Center since the arena opened in 1998.

After the Badgers had stormed back from two goals down in the third period to send the game to overtime, the Badgers were struck with another unfortunate bounce, something that had plagued them the entire weekend on home ice. With only 15 seconds remaining in overtime, Dingle threw the puck at UW’s Brian Elliott (33 saves). As Dingle fired, Rakhshani charged the net and managed to deflect the puck past Elliott for the game winner.

“I wasn’t expecting to go back out and [Coach George Gwozdecky] told Dingle’s line to go,” Rakhshani said. “I almost forgot about the time out there. I just drove to the net, put my stick down and Dingle just threw it across the middle. I really didn’t have time to see it; just hit it and went in.”

The goal was a little extra special for Rakhshani, seeing as he was heavily recruited by the Badgers’ before choosing to skate a little closer to his hometown of Huntington Beach, California.

“It’s always fun coming into a place like this against a team you respect so much,” Rakhshani said. “Our team has been playing well lately and just to get rewarded for it feels good.”

From the start of the contest, Wisconsin continued getting the wrong bounces and Denver getting all the right ones. Denver comfortably built a 3-1 cushion early in the third period, thanks to two goals by junior Ryan Dingle, one off a deflection of a Badger defender’s glove and another off his own skate, and a goal from freshman Brian Gifford, which aptly enough bounced off a Badgers defenseman’s stick.

Wisconsin was able to muster some offense though, with Michael Davies cashing in on one of the seven Denver penalties on the night to put the Badgers on the board. Still, with the way the weekend was going, Wisconsin fans had little to hang their cheese heads on.

But something was different this time around for Wisconsin; the puck started bouncing towards them. The comeback started with Jake Dowell, limited by the stomach flu, connecting on his eighth goal of the season off a rebound that bounced right to his stick.

Just four minutes later, freshman John Mitchell got the most fortuitous bounce of the night. Picking up the loose puck and skating into the Pioneer zone, Mitchell fired a shot that bounced off Julian Marcuzzi’s stick, ricocheted off his pad and wound up back on Mitchell’s stick. Mitchell didn’t miss this time, scoring his first collegiate goal and tying the score.

“Coming back from two down shows a lot of character for us,” UW assistant captain Jeff Likens said. “We did a lot of good things and we can hold our heads up high for sure.”

But it was all for not, as the lucky bounces found their way back to the challengers, as Denver was rewarded for not losing its poise during Wisconsin’s third-period outburst.

“We weathered the storm and got rewarded for it,” Rakhshani said. “Coach talked to us and said this [weekend] was a test for ourselves and anyone that wants to beat us. This was a statement weekend [for us].”

Despite the Badgers pushing their winless streak against Denver to seven games, their longest such streak against any opponent, head coach Mike Eaves feels that his team is beginning to shake off the funk that has been plaguing the Badgers since the beginning of October. With Wisconsin traveling to border rival Minnesota next weekend, Eaves hopes such is the case.

“Other than the outcome, we did a lot of tremendous things tonight,” Eaves said. “It will be interesting when we watch the game tape, because I’ll bet money that we out-chanced them [tonight]. When you’re in these types of [droughts], you wish you can turn on the dime and things can change. Unfortunately, that’s not real life, but we started to turn the ship around and go the direction that we wanted.”

But the Kohl Center still remains the property of the Denver Pioneers, who shook off the rust from last week’s off week and managed to sweep the defending national champions and move alone into third place in the WCHA and host the red-hot Michigan Tech Huskies.

“These games [against Wisconsin] are always tough, tight games whether it’s in their barn or ours,” Rakhshani said. “We just have to get after them, move the puck and use our speed on them because we are a fast, good skating team. When we are going on all cylinders, it was tough for them to keep up with us.”

Who knows? Maybe next season Eaves will change the arena name to Magness Arena East to trick the Pioneers.

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