"They picked it up a notch and we weren't as sharp right from the get go" UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "Then we have to try to play catch up in getting ourselves to a level that matches them, and that's a difficult thing to do."
Denver forward Jeff Drummond led all players with two goals and an assist, while freshman goaltender Peter Mannino registered 22 saves for the defending national champion Pioneers (4-3-0, 3-1-0 Western Collegiate Hockey Association), who took a big step towards reestablishing themselves as an elite unit after dropping their first two games of the year.
Mannino, making only his third college hockey start, outperformed Wisconsin's touted netminder and conference Preseason Player of the Year Bernd Bruckler, who finished the night with 25 saves and five goals against. The rookie's strong play against the nation's second-best offense was instrumental in his team's victory.
"I thought Mannino played very well," Denver assistant coach Steve Miller said. "There were so many traffic saves he got a shoulder on, or a stick on, or a glove on."
The Badgers (5-1-0, 3-1-0 WCHA) entered the final period trailing 4-3, yet were unable to create any good scoring chances and seemed to deflate after falling behind by two goals early in the third session. The Pioneer defense denied the hosts—who have scored 10 goals in the third period this year—any opportunity to catch up and continually frustrated the Badgers' deep corps of scorers.
"I thought our third period was great," Miller said. "I don't think we were on our heels and I don't think we sat back. I think we went out and attacked."
Denver put the game out of reach with an insurance goal a few minutes into the third period courtesy of Paul Stastny, whose shot ricocheted through the defense and into the net. His goal made the Pioneers the first team this season to score against Wisconsin in the final stanza.
"They were in our face the whole game," Badger captain Adam Burish said. "That's why they won the game and that's why they won the national championship last year."
The second period belonged to the special teams, with three of four goals coming on the man advantage.
Though the Pioneers had failed to convert on all four of their previous power plays, they managed their first at a crucial juncture.
With Wisconsin having seized momentum with a tying goal and challenging for their first lead, Drummond hit home his second goal after deflecting an incoming Matt Carle shot above Bruckler to give Denver a 4-3 lead at 18:17.
"That's the best way to respond I think — getting a goal right after they get a goal," Drummond said.
For equalizers, Wisconsin had to look no further than its power play line of Ryan MacMurchy, Jake Dowell and Andrew Joudrey. The trio converted on both of the Badgers' chances on the man advantage in the second and tied the game twice, 2-2 and 3-3, in a 10-minute span.
After MacMurchy tied the match at 2-2, the Pioneers quickly rallied to take their third lead with an even strength goal from last year's top scorer, Gabe Gauthier, at the halfway mark. After another Denver penalty, Wisconsin again let loose its top power play line and was rewarded with a wraparound goal from Dowell.
Top special teams play was not just reserved for the power play, however, as the Wisconsin penalty killers convincingly stifled their opponents two out of three times. Despite coming under heavy offensive pressure and being forced into a 5-on-3 at one point, the Badgers denied the Pioneers several big scoring chances and kept their team in the game.
The Pioneers took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission with a mix of offensive skill and strong play in net.
Luke Fulghum put the visitors up for the second time at 12:17 with a floating wrister from beyond the faceoff circle that snuck between Bruckler's pads. This came only two minutes after Wisconsin leveled its initial deficit with a powerful wrister from freshman Davis Drewiske.
Denver put the hosts down before the fans made it to their seats with a goal 23 seconds in. Jeff Drummond partnered with Jussi Halme in a well played give-and-go to tally the opening strike.
"Against good teams you can't put yourself in that kind of hole," Badger defender Tom Gilbert said.
Denver's all-time ecord at the Kohl Center improves to 7-1-2 with the win.
The Badgers will next now look towards their first road test of the season as they head to Minneapolis for their annual border battle with No. 6 Minnesota, Nov. 6-7.