DENVER — Sixty minutes of hockey ultimately came down to a tenth of a second Friday night at Magness Arena, as the second ranked Denver Pioneers survived a furious rally from No. 17 Wisconsin to hold on for a 3-2 win.
As time expired, Matt Ford scored what would have been the tying goal for the Badgers, sending the Badgers into crazed exultation. However, upon video review, the goal was disallowed, starting a raucous celebration in the Pioneers’ end and looks of disbelief in the Badgers’ end. The referees ruled that time had expired.
“I had no idea,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky after the game, questioned about whether he thought the goal would be disallowed.
“The one reason that our coaches in this league and administration, and the referees especially, pushed so hard and for so long for a very expensive but effective tool like instant replay was to get the call right. It’s tough when it goes against you, no question about it, but as tough as it is, you can’t argue against it.”
“Without question,” said Badgers coach Mike Eaves, when asked if it was the most disappointed the Badgers have felt all season. “They deserved better. They needed that point for their own health and well-being.”
The Pioneers dominated the first period in almost all aspects. Cody Brookwell set the tone early, ringing a shot off the post at the 15 second mark of the period.The Pioneers continued to buzz in the offensive zone, while the Badgers struggled to get any pressure on Mannino.
“The first half of the game, we came out flying, got a lot of opportunities and put a lot of pucks on net,” said Pioneers’ freshman forward Kyle Ostrow, who had two assists.
Senior Tom May got the Pioneers on the board with a beautiful play. Standing on the boards at the red line, Rhett Rakhshani backhanded a pass cross ice to May, who cut to his right around Badgers’ defenseman Ryan McDonagh at the blue line, skated down low and lifted the puck top shelf glove side past Badgers’ goalie Shane Connelly at 7:20.
The Pioneers quickly built on that lead. Dustin Jackson carried the puck into the Badgers’ zone, but had it poke checked away from him. The puck went back towards the blue line and sat there. Jackson started back to retrieve it, but Ostrow came across the blue line with speed and picked it up, then slipped a pass through the Badgers’ defense to Anthony Maiani all alone at the right side of the net. Maiani redirected the pass through Connelly’s legs at 9:58.
“We were just racing for it, and I called for it ’cause I was going towards the net,” said Ostrow. “I was going to shoot, but then I saw Maiani back door and just tried to get it to him and it snuck through and it got in.”
With about seven minutes left in the period, Tyler Bozak stepped up and crushed Kyle Turris at the Wisconsin blue line, knocking Turris to the ice. Bozak battled Turris for the scoring title last year in the BCHL, a title Bozak ultimately won.
“They definitely had the pace a little bit,” said Eaves. “It looked like we were kind of looking at each other like, who’s going to get the job done here, and then eventually we kind of kicked into gear and everybody started doing their part.”
Late in the period, the Badgers started to generate some pressure, but Mannino made big stops, first robbing Sean Dolan with his right pad, then stoning Turris’ doorstep attempt from the left side post on a power play.
The big hits continued in the second period. Rakhshani leveled Ben Street at the Wisconsin blue line right in front of the Pioneers’ bench early in the second.
Wisconsin finally started to get good chances as the period progressed. Kyle Klubertanz rang a shot off the crossbar from the top of the slot, and Aaron Bendickson broke in on a two-on-none after Andrew Thomas misplayed the puck at the Pioneers’ blue line, but Bendickson lifted a backhand high over the crossbar.
The Pioneers broke through on a power play to make it 3-0 on a perfect play. Brock Trotter backhanded a pass to Ostrow at the left side boards, and Ostrow and Tyler Ruegsegger broke in two-on-one. Ostrow held the puck till he was low, then sent a perfect pass through the crease to Ruegsegger, who tapped it into the open net at 4:28.
“We weren’t very happy with our first,” said Turris. “We came back and started getting it going in the second, and in the third we really competed.”
Wisconsin finally solved Mannino on a power play at 18:34 of the period. The Pioneers almost had a chance to break in two-on-one shorthanded, but they misplayed the puck at their blue line, allowing the Badgers to keep the pressure on.
Bendickson finally made them pay. Turris fired a shot from the blue line that was blocked by Jesse Martin, who was visibly in pain, but the rebound came right back to Turris, and Bendickson, right outside the crease, tipped the shot through Mannino’s legs.
“With a couple minutes left in the second, they get a late goal like that and it puts them back in the game where they had nothing going for them,” said Ostrow. “They took that momentum and brought it into the third and we were scrambling a bit.”
Wisconsin carried the momentum from their goal into the third period, keeping the Pioneers pinned in their own end for the first two minutes. Denver looked tired, and the Badgers made them pay early when John Mitchell got the puck in the left corner, started towards the back of the net and flipped a pass in front to Dolan, whose shot had just enough to beat Mannino low glove side at 1:55 of the period.
“Hockey games, you’ve got to play 60 minutes,” said Ruegsegger. “We felt we played a good period and a half, and then we started getting away from the things we were doing well and give them credit, they worked extremely hard, and they fought their way back.”
“That was one of the positives without question, they never gave up,” said Eaves. “They battled for each other, they battled for themselves, and it gave them a chance to get back in the game.”
The Badgers continued to bottle up the Pioneers in their own end for long stretches, and it looked like the bigger physical presence of the Badgers had an impact on the smaller Pioneers.
“I think they tried to use it, finishing checks and stuff,” said Ostrow of the Badgers’ size. “I think our speed out managed them a bit today, but they do have size.”
“I don’t know if we tired, but they put an awful lot of pressure on us, especially on their forecheck,” said Gwozdecky. “At times, we made some very strange decisions with the puck. It all started in the second period with us getting reckless with the puck. Their forecheck really at times bottled us up in the third period.”
With just 30 seconds left in the game, Ruegsegger carried the puck into the Badgers’ end and had an open net to shoot it, but shot high and wide. The Badgers carried it into the neutral zone, but Chris Butler got the puck with less than 10 seconds to play and had a chance to carry it, but iced it, setting up a faceoff to the left of Mannino with 2.7 seconds left.
Turris and Bozak squared off, and Bozak tried to tie Turris up, but Turris got it back and the puck came to Ford in the slot, but it was too late.
The same team teams face off at 7:05 MST Saturday evening.