MADISON, Wis. — In the hours leading up to Fridays pivotal match-up, Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves commented that playing the top-ranked team in the nation was going to bring out the absolute best in his team.
It took two periods, but Eaves premonition was fairly accurate. The problem was that he made no guesses about the ending, which always seems to go the way of the Pioneers.
Third ranked Wisconsin battled back from a two goal, third period deficit to take a one goal lead into the final two minutes, but couldnt hold over No.1 Denver and had to settle for an exciting 3-3 overtime tie in front of 12,063 fans at the Kohl Center.
The result was what you might expect from two top hockey teams in the college world, Eaves said. It was a fantastic third period and could have been an unbelievable third period had we held on to that lead.
The end results were mix for Wisconsin. On one hand, the Badgers finally figured out junior goalie Marc Cheverie, who saw his scoreless streak against Wisconsin end at exactly 183 minutes when the home team lambasted him for three goals in a 4:12.
On the flip side, the Badgers havent beaten Denver in the past six contests and havent registered a regular season win against the Pioneers at home since October 2004, a mark that makes the Badgers 2-13-3 (including a 6-2 NCAA regional win in 2008) lifetime against the Pioneers in the Kohl Center since it opened for hockey in 1998-99.
Even more mindboggling is the Badgers are 0-6-15 in their last 21 overtime contests dating back to March 17, 2007.
We are all sick and tired about how they come in here and do well, a visibly frustrated senior tri-captain Blake Geoffrion said. It doesnt matter.
Wisconsin dominated the tempo in the opening period and was nearly rewarded when Andy Bohmbachs wrister caromed off the right post at 2:48, a near miss that was confirmed when referee Jon Campion reviewed the play.
But such as the case in so many of these Wisconsin-Denver contests in Madison, the Pioneers got the upper hand early, as right winger Joe Colborne scored his ninth on the season on the power play, beating UW goalie Scott Gudmandson (20 saves) high on the glove side at 16:38.
Even with defensemen John Ryder and William Wrenn serving a one game suspension due to game disqualification penalties, the Pioneers frustrated Wisconsins high-powered offense, which came into the series leading the conference with 4.05 goals per game
With the Badgers getting nothing close past Cheverie, Denver assistant captain Kyle Ostrows goal in the opening minutes of the third period, backhanding a centering pass past Gudmandson at 1:56, looked to be the clincher, until one realizes that a two goal lead hasnt been
Thats our story all year long, said Cheverie, who finished with 32 saves. We let up, sat back and you cant do that at this level, especially on the road and against a team like Wisconsin. They are going to make you pay if you do that.
The Badgers (13-6-4 overall, 9-5-3 in the WCHA) did just that. Geoffrion got his first puck past Cheverie at 4:12 in the third when he deflected a Michael Davies power-play shot in front of the net for his team-leading 16th goal of the season, finally injecting some life into the crowd.
I think everybody in the building was finally relieved we got one in, said Davies, who has a six game point streak. In the past, this team has just killed us.
Davies added to his impressive total, scoring his 16 points in his 15th career game against Denver, when he rifled in a rebound at 7:15 to tie the score at two and was on the ice when Geoffrion scored his 17th of the year on a centering pass from Jordy Murray at 8:43 to tie
Davies now has 99 career points.
We just stuck with it, Davies said. The whole team was like that the whole game.
But just like in past meetings, Denver found a way. On a centering pass, Anthony Maiani kicked the puck with his right skate right onto his stick and threw it over Gudmandson’s left shoulder at 18:04, tying the score at three.
It was coming at me a little fast, so I didnt have time to get it on my stick right away, Maiani admitted. I had to kick it back up to my stick and got if off as soon as possible.
Gudmandson wasnt shaken for long or the Badgers would have been dealt another frustrating home defeat at the hands of the Pioneers.
Denver fired four prime scoring opportunities at Gudmandson in overtime — a breakaway from Kyle Ostrow, shots from the slot by Maiani and Jesse Martin and a rifle from Drew Shore above the right circle — but couldnt convert, leaving both teams feeling the end result between two conference heavyweights as bittersweet.
Honestly, we were lucky to get back in that game, Cheverie said. They played well and we didnt play that bad either. Its a bittersweet feeling to get a tie, despite the meltdown in the third
I know the guys are disappointed, Eaves added. (That third period) is stuff we need to bring back and build on.