Another Slow Starts Dooms Pioneers

George Gwozdecky talked about the importance of getting an early lead and the consequences of falling behind early Friday after his team lost to North Dakota in the WCHA Final Five semifinals.

The Denver coach could’ve applied those same thoughts after the top-ranked Pioneers found themselves stuck with an early three-goal deficit against No. 3 Wisconsin as the Badgers won the consolation game 6-3.

”I was certainly not anticipating coming here and going 0-2,” Gwozdecky said. “I’m disappointed in our performance, once again, but the five best teams in the WCHA are here and it’s going to be a challenge.”

Ben Street put the Badgers on the board when he banged in a rebound 2:21 into the game, Derek Stepan beat Denver goaltender Marc Cheverie high glove side 2:37 later and Blake Geoffrion tipped in a slap shot by Stepan midway through the first.

Adam Murray replaced Cheverie in net after the third goal.

“I don’t think our preparation was there,” Cheverie said. “Wisconsin showed up and we didn’t.”

The Pioneers dug themselves a hole the night before against the Sioux the night before, falling behind 2-0 early in the second period and were forced to play catch-up the rest of the game.

Denver’s sluggish start seemed to doom the Pioneers the same way Saturday afternoon.

“We didn’t give our goalie much help first period, partly because of us being out of position in front of the net,” Pioneers captain Rhett Rakhshani said. “I’m very disappointed in the start we had.”

Rakhshani made it 3-1 with 25 seconds into the second period. Unfortunately, the Pioneers failed to cut the deficit to one just like they failed to tie the game against North Dakota.

The Badgers scored a pair of quick goals later in the period and Denver answered with two goals in the third period but couldn’t get any closer. Seven of the Pioneers’ nine losses came after allowing the first goal.

It was the first time all season that Denver lost consecutive games. Coincidentally, Wisconsin remains undefeated in games following a loss this season.

The Badgers failed to capitalize on offensive opportunities in a 2-0 loss to St. Cloud State in the other semifinal game, so the fast start was key for the Wisconsin mindset.

“Keeping it simple was something we wanted to focus on in that great start,” Stepan said. “Just getting pucks on the goalie in traffic was key.”

Added Badgers coach Mike Eaves: “The start we had tonight was the exact opposite of the one we had yesterday. We got the jump, got some goals and it carried us through the game.”