DENVER — In a hard-fought game, the eighth-ranked Denver Pioneers used special teams to continue their recent mastery of the defending national champion Wisconsin Badgers. The Pioneers rode a 34-save effort by junior goaltender Peter Mannino to a 3-1 win.
The first period was very physical, featuring eight penalties and much after-the-whistle pushing and shoving. The Pioneers looked tentative at first, having trouble controlling the puck in their own end.
“I will say that the puck really was bouncing strangely for both teams tonight,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “Maybe both teams were a little tight. A big part of our success over the last few years has been our transition game, but quite a bit tonight Wisconsin took us out of that transition and we struggled to make that first outlet pass.”
Despite the Badgers’ strong play, the Pioneers got on the board first, capitalizing on a power play. Freshman Tyler Ruegsegger took a pass at the top of the left circle from Chris Butler at the point, and, with junior Geoff Paukovich in front setting a screen, stepped in and beat goalie Brian Elliott with a wrist shot high glove-side at 2:57.
“Geoff put on a great screen there, and I knew Elliott was trying to find the puck, so I just tried to put it where Pauko was screening him,” said Ruegsegger.
The Pioneers were unable to grab momentum with that first goal, and the Badgers continued to keep the puck bottled up in their offensive zone for significant stretches. Freshman Michael Davies almost got the Badgers on the board when his shot deflected off Andrew Thomas’ skate in front, but Mannino got his pads in place.
The Badgers continued to dig a hole with penalties, however. At 15:05 of the period, with Josh Engel in the box for hooking, Matt Olinger was called for interference, giving the Pioneers a 5-on-3 power play for 41 seconds. The Badgers forced the Pioneers to the perimeter for much of that time, and killed off the first penalty.
However, at 16:47, Butler took a pass from Brian Gifford, took two steps in from the blue line and fired a perfect wrist shot that beat Elliott high glove-side.
The second period featured back-and-forth play. Paukovich picked up the puck after it bounced off the boards behind the net and almost beat Elliott with a backhand through the five-hole. Moments later, Badger senior Andy Brandt fired a turnaround shot from in front that Mannino just got his pads on.
The Pioneers had a golden chance to build on their lead midway though the period when they got a 5-on-3 for 1:17. However, they couldn’t get much pressure on Elliott. Gifford had the best chance, with open net short-side as Elliott struggled to get over in time, but his shot missed wide. Moments after that, the Pioneers caught a break when Jake Dowell, streaking down the right side, rang a wrist shot off the near side post.
“We sure had some great opportunities 5-on-3,” said Gwozdecky. “It’s frustrating to see how hard we make the game on ourselves. At times, our power play tries to be a little too creative and doesn’t take what the other team gives you.”
The Badgers started to generate more sustained pressure in the last five minutes. Senior Andrew Joudrey one-timed a snap shot alone in front, but Mannino came up big. At 16:12 of the period, Butler was whistled for holding the stick, and the Badgers again did a great job at setting up Davies on the goal line on the left side.
With Mannino down on his back, Davies tipped a shot towards the open net, only to have Mannino roll over and knock the puck over the crossbar with his stick. It looked like the Pioneers would escape, but with time winding down on Butler’s penalty, Davies, again on the left side goal line, slid a pass to Jeff Likens in front, and he redirected the pass through the five-hole, getting the Badgers on the board at 17:36 and ending Mannino’s shutout streak at 168 minutes, 31 seconds.
The Badgers outshot the Pioneers 15-6 in the period, giving them a 27-13 advantage through two periods.
“They worked the puck well,” said Mannino. “The puck went out to the point, we pinched up on it, they took advantage of it and came back down with it and got it in front. They saw what we did and took advantage of it.”
“We got pucks on [Mannino],” said Badgers coach Mike Eaves. “A lot of times, he was on his backside, moving, flipping and flopping, but they don’t say how he stops the puck.”
“We knew, prior to the season beginning, that if we were to be contenders the two guys who would have to be consistent, and at times sensational, were our goaltenders, and they’ve been just that all year for us,” said Gwozdecky. “When you’ve got goaltending like Peter and Glenn (Fisher) have given us, it gives you confidence that you can make mistakes and still know that you have a chance to win.”
The third period started with a more conservative approach by both teams, as neither wanted to make a big mistake. Joudrey had a great tip-in chance early, but Mannino stoned him.
Later, senior Ryan Helgason poked the puck away from Joe Piskula at the blue line and skated up-ice behind the Badger defense, drawing a hooking call on Olinger. On the ensuing power play, the Badgers had a golden chance to tie it when Butler, uncharacteristically lax in his zone, fell down with the puck, allowing senior Ross Carlson to break in alone on Mannino. However, as Carlson tried to pull the puck to his backhand, Mannino poke-checked it away.
The Badgers finally made the big mistake at 13:22 of the period when freshman John Mitchell kneed Keith Seabrook in a collision near the Pioneer blue line, drawing a five-minute major. On the power play, Brock Trotter, the Pioneers’ leading scorer, got the puck on the left side goal line and slid a perfect pass to Dingle on the right-side post. Dingle’s first shot hit Elliott’s pads, but the puck bounced around in front and came back to Dingle, who shot into the open net.
“We did some really good things,” said Eaves. “The thing we didn’t do is block the two shots on the screens. We did what we wanted to do for the most part, but it wasn’t good enough tonight.”