Photo: Nicole Hasse
Badgers Take 1-0 Lead In Best-Of-Three WCHA Playoff Series
With Wisconsin fighting for their playoff hockey lives and tied with ninth ranked Denver in the third period, someone needed to step up and play hero.
Someone did, but it might not have been from your first choice. Or second. Or third.
No it wasn't Wisconsin's Hobey caliber defenseman Justin Schultz. It wasn't 49 point scorer Mark Zengerle either.
Instead it was third-line winger Sean Little, notching just his second goal of the season. Who said big things couldn't come in little packages?
With around six minutes remaining in the period, freshman defenseman Jake McCabe carried the puck up the left side wall and made a jaw-dropping toe drag around a Denver defenseman. The freshman blue-liner took the puck to the near post and as he was dragged down, managed to feed the puck across the crease to a streaking Little.
The sophomore from Fond du Lac did the rest, flipping the puck into the net and sliding in with it for good measure.
"I had a lot of speed and came down the wing and was thinking about shooting it but I did that the time before that when I came down the wing," McCabe said after the game. "So I pulled off a little move and tried to slide it through and throw it in front and (Little) beat the guy to the net and put it home."
After not scoring a goal in the first 37 games of his career, Little now has two in his last four.
"McCabe made a great play, and I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time," Little noted humbly.
Wisconsin freshman goaltender Joel Rumpel has seen Little's hard work first hand, and noted that it's nice to be rewarded for your efforts once in a while.
"He works hard, and he goes to the net hard. Good things happen when players do that," Rumpel said.
The goal was all the Badgers would need in the 1-0 victory, as Rumpel stepped up with one of his best performances of the season between the pipes. It was Rumpel's third shut-out, which sets a new Wisconsin freshman record.
Little, who hasn't found himself talking to the media many times after games in his two-year Wisconsin career was quick to praise his goaltender.
"Can't say enough about Joel Rumpel. Freshman, first playoff game of his career. Just played a heck of a game, so that's fun to see," Little noted.
"He was by far our best player on the ice tonight."
Rumpel needed to be great early on. Denver started the game with energy coming off a road sweep last weekend in Omaha. Wisconsin was able to weather the storm, in large part to the play of Rumpel.
"The first five minutes we got peppered. First round jitters, we're still a young team, lot of freshmen and sophomores," McCabe said. "But after that we got in our groove and we're playing Wisconsin hockey now."
Wisconsin came to town this weekend knowing that they were running up against one of the best power plays in the country. In fact, Denver owns the 5th best conversion rate in the country this season.
The Badgers took four penalties on the night, putting themselves behind the eight ball on a number of occasions.
McCabe noted that the Badgers gained a lot of confidence when they shut down the Pioneers power-play a few weeks ago in Madison.
"We shut them down that weekend, and we shut them down again tonight. We have a lot of confidence," McCabe noted. "Just a great effort, guys were blocking shots, moving their feet, diving for pucks, it was really great to see."
In order for Wisconsin to keep their NCAA tournament dreams alive, they are going to need to close out the series against Denver with a win either Saturday night, or Sunday. That's not going to be easy against a Pioneer club who is fighting for one of the last at-large bids in the tournament.
Rumpel talked about carrying over the momentum from Friday night into Saturday.
"We need to come out like we did in the third period. We took it to them and set the pace. We definitely dominated the third period and took our game to the next level, which is nice to see."
While it would certainly be nice for Wisconsin's regular point producers to step up on the score-sheet, in the playoffs you need your entire roster chipping in.
"That's what it's going to take. To make a deep run in the playoffs we're going to need everyone," McCabe noted.
"You saw that tonight, everyone contributed. Sean, our defense, every single line, they are doing their job. That's what it's going to take. We expect that from here on out."
||1st Period (20:00)||
|DEN-1 Josiah Didier (2-Boarding) WIS 0x1||10:00|
|WIS-1 Ryan Little (2-Checking from Behind) DEN 0x1||13:02|
||2nd Period (20:00)||
|WIS-2 Keegan Meuer (2-Slashing) DEN 0x2||3:25|
|WIS-3 Keegan Meuer (2-Interference) DEN 0x3||6:23|
|DEN-2 Shawn Ostrow (2-Interference) WIS 0x2||14:12|
|WIS-4 Joe Faust (2-Holding) DEN 0x4||17:27|
||3rd Period (20:00)||
|DEN-3 Jason Zucker (2-Tripping) WIS 0x3||7:17|
|WIS||1||-||0||6x6||GW LL||Sean Little (2) (Jake McCabe, John Ramage)||14:10|
|WIS (+): 18,19,55,14,16,G33 DEN (-): 8,5,26,21,37,G31|
||End of Game||
|Joel Rumpel (W, 12-10-2)||12||11||5||28||60:00||0|
|Juho Olkinuora (L, 8-7-3)||9||6||14||29||58:40||1|
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