MADISON, Wis. — While the rest of his teammates can’t wait to see top-ranked Denver leave town, there’s a part of senior Michael Davies that wishes he would see the Pioneers one more time.
Considering his career numbers, it was only fitting that Davies was the one that would end six years of home-ice frustration against the Pioneers.
Davies registered two points, giving him 101 for his career, and scored the game-winning goal on a deflection to push No.3 Wisconsin to a 4-3 Western Collegiate Hockey Association victory over No.1 Denver in front of a sellout crowd (15,237) at the Kohl Center Saturday.
Coupled with Friday’s 3-3 tie, Wisconsin (14-6-4, 10-5-3 WCHA), which moved two points out of first place in the WCHA, took three points from Denver in a regular season home series for the first time since October 1994, an impressive accomplishment during a weekend that gave off a tournament-like atmosphere.
“Michael is really playing well for us,” said UW coach Mike Eaves, whose team is 14-1-0 when scoring four goals or more. “He’s playing with a great deal of confidence and doing a lot of little things you hope a senior would do.”
With the score tied at three with less than seven minutes left, UW’s Justin Schultz fired a rocket immediately off a faceoff. Timing it perfectly, Davies skated in front of the net to screen Denver goalie Marc Cheverie and caught a piece of the puck to deflect it into the net, giving him his 18th point in 16 career games against Denver (14-6-4, 10-4-4 WCHA).
“I am just playing to my strengths,” said Davies, who became the first 100-point scorer for UW since 2006. “Winning those battles gives you a lot of confidence. Winning those races is what coach preaches to me.”
Starting the scoring at 15:47 in the first, Wisconsin senior tri-captain Ben Street got the most fortuitous of bounces when a centering pass was deflected off defenseman Matt Donovan and right on to Street’s stick for a 1-0 lead.
Denver responded quickly in the second, taking advantage of a multitude of errors from UW goalie Brett Bennett (30 saves). After Bennett was called for tripping in front of his net, the junior was unable to stop the puck, giving up three rapid-fire rebounds that caused him to be out of position when Matt Donovan fired in a shot at 2:32, tying the score at one.
UW freshman Craig Smith, who served Bennett’s penalty, came out of the box well rested, scoring a goal from the slot at 2:55 on a feed from senior tri-captain Blake Geoffrion, one of his four points on the weekend.
After his goal, Smith made sure the Badgers added some need insurance against a club that had given Wisconsin fits at home. Passing off to sophomore Jordy Murray, the left winger executed a flawless wraparound attempt by finding the minute crevice between Cheverie’s legs to give UW a 3-1 lead at 6:25.
“They brought the game to a higher level,” said Smith, “and we matched that.”
While Wisconsin kept the shots at a minimum, Denver still found ways to make Bennett uncomfortable. Rhett Rakhshani scored uncontested on a give-and-go play to pull the Pioneers within one at 13:43 in the second and center Tyler Ruegsegger zipped a slap shot between Bennett’s pads at 6:32 in the third.
Ruegsegger’s goal was the second against UW’s penalty kill, which ranked first in the conference with an 86 percent stoppage rate.
“It’s 3-3 and with a crowd like that, we had confidence that we were going to win the hockey game,” said Rakhshani. “We put some good opportunities on the net.”
That breakdown became moot when Davies scored his tally and Bennett shut down a desperate flurry from Denver in the final minutes. It was an important confidence booster for Bennett, seeing as he hadn’t started a game since December 4.
“It’s been a long time since I played in a meaningful game in this type of atmosphere,” Bennett said. “It’s definitely huge, and games like this make us better as a team.”
After falling to score on Cheverie in a 180-minute stretch that spanned four games, Wisconsin scored seven times in just 73 minutes, 59 seconds against the conference leader in save percentage.
“The best thing about this weekend that when you play at that level, that’s championship level at college hockey,” Eaves said. “What better way to prepare yourself than playing in these types of games. It’s good to see our kids win these types of games. It gives us confidence.”