ST. PAUL, Minn. — Going into Friday afternoon’s game between Denver and Wisconsin, you knew one of two things was going to happen: either the Badgers would lose their first playoff game to the Pioneers, or Denver would lose its first WCHA postseason game at the Xcel Energy Center.
Unfortunately for the Badgers, the Pioneers defeated them for the fifth time this season, riding a 42-save shutout performance from goaltender Marc Cheverie to earn a 3-0 win and a trip to the WCHA Final Five championship game Saturday night, with a chance to retain the Broadmoor Cup on the line.
“The key element in all of those strong teams and the strong efforts we’ve had here and the success we’ve had here has been our goaltending,” said Pioneer coach George Gwozdecky. “That’s the difference. Those guys are the difference-makers.”
Both teams had some early chances, but the Pioneers struck first with 4:40 remaining in the first period. Brian Gifford came into the Badger zone on a two-on-one and fired a shot from the top of the far circle that sailed over UW netminder Shane Connelly’s left shoulder.
“I thought Brian [had] obviously a very timely goal, a great shot,” said Gwozdecky. “He did a real nice job with his line today.”
“They got timely goals,” said Badger coach Mike Eaves. “They got the timely goals from the key people they had in the lineup, so kudos to them.”
The Badgers almost tied it up with about six minutes remaining in the period with a flurry of shots, but Cheverie withstood the rush.
Denver went up 2-0 at 13:40 of the second period when Kyle Ostrow took a pass from Luke Salazar at the blue line, skated into the Badger zone, cut in front of two UW defensemen and chipped the puck up and over the right shoulder of Connelly (26 saves).
Wisconsin once again had a chance to get on the board with 70 seconds remaining in the frame when WCHA Player of the Year Jamie McBain’s power-play shot from the point deflected off Blake Geoffrion’s side and hit the crossbar behind Cheverie (42 saves). Cheverie had no idea where the puck went, but it didn’t matter as his defense cleared the puck from danger.
“We had a lot of shots — there were a lot of rebounds there that got cleaned up; we just didn’t get to them,” said Geoffrion. “We weren’t getting those second, third chances.”
“I think those are turning points that you look back on during the course of the game,” said Eaves. “Had we gotten one of those opportunities to go in, then we have energy, we have positive energy [and] our fans get a little bit more into it.”
Badger recruit and current Pioneer freshman Patrick Wiercioch put DU up 3-0 just under six minutes into the third period. Wiercioch took a pass from Patrick Mullen and fired a shot from the point over Connelly’s left shoulder for the power-play tally. The goal was Wiercioch’s fourth against the Badgers in his career.
“I think our team has generally been playing well against this team,” he said. “When you get team success I think it just helps out individually.”
Wisconsin’s Tom Gorowsky almost spoiled Cheverie’s shutout bid with just 32.6 seconds remaining in the third. He got a breakaway at the blue line and had his initial shot stopped by Cheverie but slid toward the net, face-first, along with the puck.
However, Gorowsky’s skate touched the puck as he was sliding past the net, negating the goal.
“In many ways, it seemed like we were swimming upstream tonight,” said Eaves. “In terms of the way we’ve been playing recently, that wasn’t us.”
“Fortunately, we have done well in this tourney. We’re the defending champions and we want to win the Broadmoor trophy, no ifs, ands or buts,” said Gwozdecky.
The Pioneers will face off against the winner of the evening semifinal game between North Dakota and Minnesota Duluth Saturday night at 7:07 p.m. Central.