But that is exactly what the Pioneers did. Connelly performed admirably in his first official outing but his counterpart at the other end of the ice stole the show and Geoff Paukovich scored the only goal of the game to take down the Badgers 1-0 in front of a sold-out Kohl Center crowd.
"We thought there was no better time to make a statement than now," Paukovich said.
"They showed up for a big game and we came out flat," Wisconsin sophomore Joe Pavelski said. "I think we might have got a little too far ahead of ourselves."
All the talk this week heading into the game was whether Connelly would be able to stand in for Brian Elliott—probably the best goalie in the country—after the junior went down in practice this week with a leg injury.
By the end of the game, however, Connelly had shown he was more than capable of playing. But Denver goalie Glenn Fisher's performance took center stage.
Fisher, who was pulled after giving up four goals in less than 30 minutes last Friday against St. Cloud State, was the MVP of the game last night. He stopped 12 shots in the first period, but really made his presence felt in the second and third, when he made 16 saves and forced himself to come up big.
"It was just a good road game, they didn't give up a lot," UW head coach Mike Eaves said of the Pioneer's effort. "We had some people that didn't play as well as they can."
Up one goal late in the second, Fisher found himself out of position with Wisconsin in striking range. Sprawled out in the crease, he somehow found a way to get his leg pad up to stop a Ross Carlson wrister.
"I thought it was going in, I got everything I could on it," Carlson said.
"I was out of position," Fisher said. "That's when you have to make big saves. It wasn't pretty, but I got it out of the net."
In the third period Fisher again misplayed a shot somewhat when he decided not to cover the puck. Pavelski got a shot on moments later, but Fisher slid back across the net, taking away the bottom half of the goal and preserving the shutout.
"It was a good save again," Pavelski said.
"Our team stole one tonight," Fisher said when asked if he thought he, himself, had stolen the contest. He finished with 28 saves on the night.
Connelly nearly matched him with a 22-save effort, but the one goal that beat him turned out to be enough for the Pioneers.
Less than two minutes after UW's Matt Ford narrowly missed a goal when his shot caromed off the post, the Pioneers took the lead.
J.D. Corbin picked up the puck behind the Badger net and found Paukovich alone point-blank. He went top-shelf on the freshman goalie's glove side, but Connelly never really had a chance to stop the puck as the play developed behind him.
"I didn't really see the shot," Connelly said. "It was good placement and it just hit the cross-bar and went in."
"It was all Corbin," Paukovich said. "I was just in the right place at the right time."
And what better time could there be for him to get his first goal in 28 games.
"It was a nice monkey to get off my back," the sophomore center said. "It was a step in the right direction."
As Paukovich said, the Pioneers did make a big statement with the win, their second in a row following a three-game losing streak. Denver (10-5-2 WCHA, 13-10-2 overall) moved within six points of Wisconsin (13-2-2, 18-3-2) in the McNaughton Cup Race. Minnesota (10-5-2, 15-6-4) remained tied for second place with the Pioneers after a 4-2 win over Colorado College Friday night.
"When we rise to the occasion we're as good as anybody," Paukovich said.
For Fisher, the game served as a warning signal to the other teams in the league.
"Look out," he said.
"They've got guys on that team that are back-to-back national champions and they can carry the torch," Eaves said. "They teach the young kids by what they do. They did a nice job."
But while the nine-goal dropoff from their 9-1 victory at Colorado College last Saturday seems alarming, the Badgers did not appear that frustrated by it.
Eaves attributed it to the usual ebb and flow of offensive production.
"That's the game," he said.
The Badgers were a little miffed, however, about their lack of intensity, which has been the story in the games they have lost this year.
"The day after, the next practice, was probably the best practice we've had all year," Pavelski said. "But then we show up tonight and it wasn't the same team."
Wisconsin will try to find that intensity, and the back of the net, while hoping Connelly can provide a similar effort in the series finale Saturday night.