Despite last weekend's sweep at the hands of Minnesota State, Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said that he felt the ship was starting to turn in the right direction for the Badgers. Things continued to shift in the right direction Friday night as Wisconsin offered up arguably their best effort of the season in a one-one tie against fifth ranked, and league leading Denver.
Wisconsin was excellent on the defensive end Friday against a Denver club that came into the game as the top scoring offense in the country, averaging over four goals a game. When they did slip up, sophomore goaltender Joel Rumpel was up to the task, stopping 30 of 31 shots.
Unfortunately the one that Rumpel couldn't stop was a heart-breaker for the Badgers.
With Wisconsin up by a goal with under two minutes to play, Denver head coach George Gwozdecky pulled goaltender Juho Olkinuora for an extra attacker. Sophomore defenseman Joey LaLeggia fired a puck on net from a bad angle below the faceoff circle to Rumpel's right, and the puck somehow found a way to squeeze past the Badger net-minder and across the goal line.
In overtime Wisconsin would receive the best opportunity to come away with a win. Shortly after his penalty expired, UW junior center Jefferson Dahl broke free on a break away but Olkinuora came up big once again to close the door.
Wisconsin's goal came seven minutes into the third period by the red-hot Michael Mersch. The junior winger was able to deflect a John Ramage shot past Olkinuora for his team leading ninth goal of the season.
Friday also marked the debut of Nic Kerdiles. The freshman winger had been suspended by the NCAA for the first ten games of the season, and played well in his first game as a Badger. Kerdiles finished with three shots on goal and set up two big time scoring chances.
Despite only receiving one point for their efforts, Wisconsin was the better team for most of the night and can take a lot out of the effort they put forth Friday night. The Badgers and Pioneers will be back in action Saturday night at 8 PM (CT).
1-0 Wisconsin--7:06--Michael Mersch (Ramage, LaBate): Derek Lee wins the faceoff to Joseph LaBate who drops the puck back to John Ramage at the point. Ramage fires a shot towards the net that Michael Mersch re-directs last Juho Olkinuora to give Wisconsin a 1-0 lead.
1-1 Denver--18:44--LaLeggia (Levin, N. Shore): LaLeggia carries the puck below the faceoff circle and throws a shot on net from a bad angle. Somehow the puck grows eyes and slips through the pads of Wisconsin goaltender Joel Rumpel to tie the game at one late in the third period.
Wisconsin State Journal (Baggot): UW surrenders late goal, settles for tie with No. 5 Denver
Denver Post (Chambers): DU Pioneers score late in regulation, tie Wisconsin 1-1 in overtime
UWBadgers.com: On Point: Wisconsin takes WCHA-leading Denver to 1-1 tie
DenverPioneers.com: Denver skates to 1-1 deadlock vs Wisconsin