Just 25 minutes into their game Friday night against second-ranked Denver at Magness Arena, all hope looked lost for the Badgers (8-10-3, 4-8-1 WCHA), who are still looking for their first victory in 2008 – and their first road victory this season – following a stunningly controversial 3-2 defeat.
An inspired, improbable comeback from down 3-0 looked complete when Ford snapped UW's would-be third goal past DU goaltender Peter Mannino.
UW freshman center Kyle Turris won the faceoff against Tyler Bozak with 2.7 seconds left on the stadium clock, and the puck left Ford's stick and entered the Pioneer net before time had officially expired on the stadium clock – and, according to text messages sent to UW officials after the game, the Fox Sports Net clock on television.
However, the on-ice WCHA official said referee Randy Schmidt ruled, after viewing replays from the overhanging camera above the DU goal, that time had run out when the puck was about a foot away from crossing the goal line. This camera has its own clock for video review, and it was not verified whether this clock is on par with FSN or stadium clocks.
"The referee said he looked at the replay, said the puck was this far from going in, and the clock read zero," said UW coach Mike Eaves, understandably frustrated after the game. "Now I'm getting different reports from different people saying on another clock, there was 0.2 seconds. So I'd like to know which clock they're looking at."
The debacle wasn't made easier by the fact that there were two other clock discrepancies in the final 30 seconds of the game – giving this college hockey game the feel of a basketball game where the end of the game took forever.
"Why is it that twice, in a game, their people can't hear the whistle to stop the clock when it should be stopped?" Eaves pondered. "We got a real issue here in this building."
Denver (17-4-0, 12-3-0) head coach George Gwozdecky, naturally, wasn't as opinionated on the matter, but admitted that modern circumstances worked against the Badgers on this night.
"Back in the old days, without video replay – and I don't know if Randy Schmidt called it a goal or waved it off by his initial call – but back in the old days, that probably counts," Gwozdecky said. "That's why you have the video replay. I think he went to the video replay three or four times tonight just to get the call right.
"It's a great tool to be used."
Matthew Ford, a snakebitten senior who has played better this season than his statistics indicate, was disappointed by the result but was relatively composed afterward.
"Lot of emotions. Went from high to low in a very short amount of time," said Ford, who has two goals and two assists in 14 games. "I knew they were going to review it, so I kind of got myself back to a medium. Because as you can see, anything can happen.
"It felt like forever," added Ford, referring to the review. "But when it came out and the decision was made that it was no goal, you hit rock bottom there for a second. It was tough."
Many hockey rinks are equipped with a certain technology regarding the lights behind the goals; if time expires, not only does the green light illuminate but the on-ice operator is unable to use the red light.
In this case, the red light did come on, leading Ford to celebrate madly on ice, believing he had notched the equalizer.
"Puck crossed the goal line, I couldn't see the clock, but I saw the red light on, and that was the indicator to me that I (had scored)," Ford said. "That was a big high for me.
"Right there, I turned around, all I could think was, we came back."
Eaves said when he brought the red-light rule to the referee's attention, he received a "blank look" and no further explanation.
While the Badgers came away without a point Friday, they can be proud of how they responded to digging a huge hole.
UW sophomore center Aaron Bendickson put Wisconsin on the scoreboard with just 96 ticks remaining in the second period. Turris took a slapshot from 25 feet out and was blocked by Jesse Martin, but the Turris' second effort grazed Bendickson and snuck past DU goalie Peter Mannino.
Bendickson's goal came on the power play, encouraging for a UW squad that had been 2-for-48 with the man advantage in its previous 12 games.
"Our power play hasn't been the greatest lately," Turris said. "So it was good to see we got one of those, just put people in front of the net and get pucks in there."
Freshman forward Sean Dolan scored his second goal in as many games with 18:05 left in the game, setting up a chippy third period that was capped by the bizarre finish.
"They deserved better," Eaves said. "They needed that point for their own health and well-being and confidence and energy. All those things that only come from getting a point in a tough building."
The Badgers didn't do themselves any favors in the first 25 minutes of the game, as Denver got goals from Tom May, Anthony Maiani and Tyler Ruegsegger. Ruegsegger's goal came on a power play that was initiated by a tripping penalty on UW goaltender Shane Connelly.
"We didn't get a great start by any stretch," Eaves said. "It looked like we had some guys that were looking around for somebody else to get the job done. But we battled back and did an awful lot of good things in the second half of the game."
Which is something the Badgers say they'll hold onto going forth, even if the standings say they earned no points Friday.
"At the same time, I think this is a good thing for our team," Ford said. "We're going to walk away with our heads held high and look at the positives. To play like we did the last 30 minutes and turn things around, that shows a lot of character on this team.
"Sooner or later, that's going to have to turn into points, success, everything else."
Game Notes: Eaves said he would contact WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod "eventually" regarding Ford's overturned goal … Turris, sophomore forward Blake Geoffrion and sophomore defenseman Jamie McBain rejoined the Badgers after competing in the 2008 IIHF World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic. The trio had missed the past four games … the announced attendance was 6,114, with a fair share of Bucky fans in the crowd … the Badgers will try to even the series Saturday night at 8:05 pm CT.