UW finishes 3rd at WCHA finals

first_imgST. PAUL, Minn. — The path to the NCAA tournament was simple for the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team: two Final Five wins and they’re in.But a 3-0 loss to Denver Friday ended the Badgers’ hopes for a Final Five title, dashing their NCAA postseason chances in the process. When the tournament field was chosen Sunday, UW was the first team out.Standing in the way of Wisconsin and a date in the Final Five championship game was the Denver Pioneers and goaltender Marc Cheverie, who blanked the Badgers by stopping all 42 shots en route to a 3-0 win.“Tonight was just a solid game by them,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said of Denver. “I thought they played an extremely intelligent game. They played well as a team. They played hard. They won a lot of battles, and got some timely goals tonight.”The loss to the Pioneers was a familiar feeling for the Badgers, who were swept in the season series against Denver, losing all five games.It was a familiar cast of characters as well that did UW in on Friday. Brian Gifford, Kyle Ostrow and Patrick Wiercioch all netted goals in the victory.For Wiercioch, his power play goal 6:01 into the third period was his tenth point of the season against the Badgers — a team he nearly played for this season.Wiercioch originally gave a verbal commitment to Wisconsin to play as a defenseman, but because of UW’s depth on defense, he would have had to wait a year before cracking the lineup. An opportunity to play immediately at Denver arose, so Wiercioch took it and hasn’t looked back. The freshman finished the season with 12 goals and 21 assists — and a good portion of his scoring came against the Badgers.“Our team generally has been playing well against this team,” Wiercioch said. “They’re a good team, and ever since we’ve played them back in October, we knew it would be big series coming down to the end.”DU’s Brian Gifford started the scoring late in the first period. After skating across the UW blueline, Gifford wristed a shot that crept over the left shoulder of Wisconsin goalie Shane Connelly and in for a 1-0 lead.In the second, Ostrow gave the Pioneers a 2-0 edge. Ostrow took a brilliant pass from teammate Luke Salazar and then split Wisconsin’s Sean Dolan and Jake Gardiner on his way to the net.“One of the things we certainly wanted to do is be able to get our transition game functioning and functioning properly,” Denver head coach George Gwozdecky said. “I thought that was part of our success today.”Wiercioch’s shot in the third period on the power play from the left point found its way through traffic and beat Connelly for the final goal of the game.The story of the day for Denver, though, was sophomore Cheverie, who pitched the shutout by stopping all 42 Badger shots.“This is a goaltender’s tournament,” Gwozdecky said of the Final Five. “Goaltenders are going to win it for you.”Indeed, Cheverie did everything he could to make sure his Pioneers advanced to the championship game. And despite firing 42 times on net, the shots the Badgers took didn’t make Cheverie work particularly hard.“He did his part,” UW defenseman Jamie McBain said. “We gave him that first shot, but a lot of the time their defense — give them credit, they blocked our forwards out.”“Good teams have to tighten up in the playoffs if you want to have success,” Cheverie said. “That’s what our team’s been doing. … I give all the credit to them. They make my job a lot easier.”Following the loss, Wisconsin advanced to the consolation game Saturday against WCHA regular-season champion North Dakota. With the NCAA tournament no longer an option, the Badgers seemingly had little to play for.But Wisconsin certainly didn’t look like a team playing in its last game of the season. UW jumped on UND three times in the second period, taking the third-place game by a 4-1 final.Early on, though, it appeared as if Wisconsin was ready for its season to be over.UW fired just six shots on net in the first period to the Fighting Sioux’s 17. North Dakota forward Ryan Duncan — the 2007 Hobey Baker award winner — put his team up 7:45 into the first with a goal from the doorstep. It appeared as if Connelly had the left side of the net sealed up, but Duncan found an opening and slipped the puck in for a 1-0 UND lead.“It wasn’t one of his classics,” North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol said. “He showed good, quick hands and he pulled it from below the goal line and stuffed it in. It was a good goal for him and it got us off to a good start.”But during the first and second periods, a switch was flipped on in the Wisconsin locker room.The Badgers came out in the second playing their most aggressive hockey of the weekend, peppering Sioux goalie Brad Eidsness with 25 second-period shots. Just 3:37 into the second, UW forward Andy Bohmbach tied things up when he poked a loose puck in the crease past Eidsness.Later in the first, freshman Jordy Murray scored what proved to be the game-winner on a great hustle play by teammate Michael Davies. After Eidsness casually left the puck behind his own goal, Davies raced in and collected the puck, eventually finding Murray cutting to the net for a one-timer and a 2-1 Badger lead.“I think everyone stepped up and realized we can still win this game,” Connelly said. “We were embarrassed in the first period, just like we were kind of embarrassed yesterday.”Defenseman Brendan Smith added a power play goal with under a minute to go in the second. Smith slapped one from the right faceoff circle that trickled under the leg pad of Eidsness and in.Wisconsin struck again on the power play in the third, as Murray notched his second goal of the game, this time on the man-advantage 17:04 into the final frame.The Badgers were 2-for-7 on the power play, while North Dakota struggled with the man-advantage, failing to convert on nine power play attempts.“We had some great power plays this weekend,” Hakstol said. “I thought today we were just more sporadic in our performance on the power play.”The 4-1 victory was a bittersweet one for Wisconsin — especially for seniors Connelly and Tom Gorowsky. Not only was it the final game of the 2008-2009 season for UW, but it was the final game of Connelly and Gorowsky’s careers.“It’s awesome. You never want to end on a loss,” Connelly said. “This is a unique situation to end on a win like this, and to get a performance from the team that showed character coming out after a disappointing day yesterday. … For me, it’s gratifying playing against a great team like North Dakota and getting the win here in the Final Five.”last_img

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