Denver Ends Wisconsin's Season In 3-2 Overtime Thriller
Sunday nights contest between Wisconsin and Denver was more than just a game for the rights to advance to the WCHA Final Five. The game was effectively an elimination tool, as the losers season was likely over at the conclusion of the contest.
With so much on the line, it was no surprise that both teams played cut-throat, heart on their sleeves type of hockey Sunday night. In the end, Denver simply made one more play than Wisconsin did.
With the score tied at two and the game in overtime, senior forward Luke Salazar made the play of the weekend for the Pioneers.
Salazar took the puck hard towards the Badger cage but was re-routed behind the net. Undeterred, Salazar quickly wrapped the puck around the goal, banking a shot off Wisconsin freshman goaltender Joel Rumpel and into the back of the net for the overtime winner.
The game winner sent a half full Magness Arena into a frenzy, as the Pioneers advanced to the quarter-finals of the WCHA Final Five on Thursday.
Denver will play Michigan Tech in the afternoon game. The Huskies were the only lower seeded team to advance to the final five, as they swept Colorado College over the weekend.
Wisconsin got on the board first in the second period when sophomore center Mark Zengerle led a short handed rush down the wing. Zengerle fired a shot towards the Denver cage that seemed to fool Pioneer sophomore goaltender Sam Brittain and managed to find the back of the net.
The goal marked the 50th point of the season for Zengerle, who was a force the entire game.
"He was a big timer tonight. Played well, he had energy. If we're playing at altitude, we had no indication that it was a factor tonight at all," head coach Mike Eaves noted after the game.
Denver would bounce back with a second period goal of their own not too much later.
After Wisconsin freshman Joel Rumpel couldn't control a rebound, Denver forward Ty Loney picked up the loose puck on the edge of the Badger crease and beat Rumpel upstairs to tie the game at one.
Not to be deterred, the Badgers bounced back just over a minute later.
Sophomore Tyler Barnes carried the puck behind the Denver net and sent a centering pass towards the Pioneer goal. The puck appeared to bank off Brittain and somehow found it's way into the back of the net.
Frankie Simonelli and Justin Schultz were credited with assists on the flukey goal.
Wisconsin took a 2-1 lead into the third period, but they weren't naive enough to believe that Denver was ready to roll over and give them the game.
After shutting down power play after power play all weekend, the Badger penalty kill finally buckled in the 9th period of the weekend.
After a Jason Zucker shot rang off the far post, Nick Shore was able to find the loose puck and slip it over the Badger goal line to tie the score at two.
The game remained tied until the overtime stanza when Salazar stepped up for the Pioneers and ended Wisconsin's season.
After the game, Wisconsin players were satisfied with the effort they gave over the weekend.
"We made a nice run, Denver's a good team. I think we gave them everything we had," Zengerle said. "We left everything on the ice, we had no regrets."
After winning just one road game in their first ten contests, the Badgers finished the season winning four of seven on the road, and five of eight overall.
Head coach Mike Eaves likened the season to a quote he read once from old Packer coach Vince Lombardi.
"And some games he used to say we ran out of time. If there was more time on the clock we would have won. I feel like that way with our season, with the way our kids were playing. We ran out of games this year," Eaves noted.
"We really came into our own in the second half and saw growth. It's tough, the guys are feeling it. They are in there and there are tears, and there is disappointment. But I kind of felt that way a little bit like we ran out of games, we ran out of time."
Considering the Badgers lineup featured just one senior and four juniors, the progress made this season was somewhat remarkable.
"If you look where we came from in the beginning of the year, we've come miles," alternate captain Justin Schultz said after the game. "I still think we can compete with any team in this league, and across the country."
Wisconsin won't face as many questions as in years past in regards to early departures, although it's all but a certainty that Schultz signs a pro contract very soon.
However the West Kelowna, B.C. native wasn't willing to talk about that after the game.
"I'm not going to get into that right now. I honestly haven't thought about it," Schultz said.
If he does end up signing a pro contract, Schultz is certainly going to be missed in Madison.
"If he does go, he's really a fun young man to work with and watch play," Eaves said. "I think his teammates have learned a lot from him, both from his work ethic and the things that he does. He was really fun to be around."
Regardless of the results, it's hard to be disappointed with the effort show in this playoff series. Wisconsin gave it everything they had, they simply came up short on the scoreboard when the dust settled on Sunday.
"We left everything out there, we have no regrets," Eaves said.
||1st Period (20:00)||
|DEN-1 Jason Zucker (2-Goaltender Interference) WIS 0x1||15:15|
|WIS-1 Ryan Little (2-Tripping) DEN 0x1||18:49|
||2nd Period (20:00)||
|WIS-2 Brendan Woods (10-Game Misconduct)||2:06|
|WIS-3 Brendan Woods (5-Boarding) (Served by Brad Navin) DEN 0x2||2:06|
|DEN-2 Scott Mayfield (2-Tripping) (Served by Larkin Jacobson)||3:10|
|WIS||1||-||0||5x6 SH||Mark Zengerle (13) (unassisted)||6:40|
|WIS (+): 9,55,18,19,G33 DEN (-): 15,23,2,21,17,G1|
|DEN||1||-||1||6x6||Ty Loney (9) (Luke Salazar, Drew Shore)||11:17|
|DEN (+): 12,18,15,2,21,G1 WIS (-): 8,19,55,7,12,G33|
|WIS||2||-||1||6x6||Tyler Barnes (11) (Frankie Simonelli, Justin Schultz)||12:32|
|WIS (+): 20,7,9,24,4,G33 DEN (-): 8,37,24,23,5,G1|
||3rd Period (20:00)||
|WIS-4 John Ramage (2-Elbowing) DEN 1x3||1:44|
|DEN||2||-||2||6x5 PP||Nick Shore (13) (Jason Zucker, Drew Shore)||2:01|
|DEN: 23,17,15,2,21,G1 WIS: 20,6,27,14,G33|
|DEN||3||-||2||6x6||GW LL||Luke Salazar (11) (Drew Shore, Scott Mayfield)||1:40|
|DEN (+): 18,15,2,24,12,G1 WIS (-): 55,19,25,12,23,G33|
||End of Game||
|Joel Rumpel (L, 12-12-2)||6||11||12||1||30||61:40||3|
|Sam Brittain (W, 7-3-0)||0||3||10||2||15||39:34||2|
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