DENVER — Over the summer, the NCAA instituted a few new rule changes to try and increase scoring in college hockey.
In the case of Friday nights game between the University of Wisconsin Badgers and the University of Denver Pioneers, those changes paid off in a wild and wooly game in which 11 total goals were scored and the Pioneers won, 6-5.
That victory was anything but assured until freshman Patrick Wiercioch scored a lucky goal on Badger goaltender Shane Connelly with 3:45 remaining in the game. Wiercioch, who originally verbally committed to Wisconsin, scored when a pass meant for Luke Salazar bounced off a Badger skate and in the net.
A goals a goal, right?, Wiercioch said about its fluky nature.
The Pioneers controlled play early in the first period, but the Badgers took the first lead of the game seven minutes in on a power-play goal when Michael Davies tipped a Jake Gardiner shot from the point past Pioneer netminder Marc Cheverie (26 saves).
Despite having several chances on the power play as well as early in the game, Denver did not manage to get on the board until the waning seconds of a late period five-on-three advantage when Tyler Bozak fired a top corner shot past Connelly (46 saves).
Wisconsin opened the game a little over halfway through the second period, scoring three goals within an 81 second span. Jamie McBain started things off at 12:34 of the period with a power play tally with John Mitchell and Ryan McDonagh adding two even strength goals.
The Pioneers narrowed the lead down to two with 4:41 remaining in the second when Dustin Jackson streaked down the right side and wristed a shot high past Connelly.
I dont think so, said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves when asked if his Badgers relaxed after going up 4-1. They just got that second goal, it was a top-shelf goal and then a peck here and a peck there and a bouncing puck here and scrambles at the net.
The Pioneers continued their comeback six minutes into the third period when Wiercioch scored his first goal of the contest — also on a fluky play.
The tally turned the game around, coming with the teams skating four-on-four after a Wisconsin too many men on the ice penalty negated a portion of a five minute major penalty assessed to Denver captain J.P. Testwuide for a check from behind.
I just tried to get a stick on it and I dont know if Ill ever be able to repeat that, but [I] kinda just jabbed at it and got lucky and it went over his glove, he said.
Anthony Maiani then tied the game on a power-play goal with a shot from the point that went in just under the crossbar a little over halfway into the third.
The Badgers regained the lead back when Jordy Murray banked in a tough-angle Jake Gardiner shot off the back of Cheverie a minute after Maianis goal, but the Pioneers were not to be stopped.
Tyler Ruegsegger knotted the game back up with around six minutes remaining with a power- play goal from the slot and sealed the comeback with Wierciochs goal two minutes after that.
Wisconsin had a chance to tie it late in the third with a power play opportunity and Connelly on the bench, but the Pioneers held on for the win.
A lot of it came down to stick battles, said Eaves. I think they won more stick battles, especially in the third period [and] they beat us up ice quite a bit tonight so those are a couple contributing factors. And, I think Shane got tired tonight.
Over the last two games, weve shown a real courageous strength in the third period and thats a good sign to see, said Pioneer coach George Gwozdecky.
Its a heart attack game, but at the same point in time, its a good sign when a team can fight back and believe in themselves and get a win out of what looked like a very difficult situation.
The two teams face off again Saturday night at Magness Arena at 7:07 p.m. MDT.