Connelly, Defense Shut the Door

Behind 30 saves from Shane Connelly and 23 blocked shots by the Wisconsin defense, the Badgers' well-rested unit propelled Wisconsin into the regional final.

MADISON - In his locker, Wisconsin goaltender Shane Connelly keeps a small leprechaun charm with the inscription "Luck be with you" written on it.

Luck was certainly with Connelly against Denver Saturday, as several Pioneer shots clanked off the pipe in the Badgers' 6-2 victory over the Pioneers in the Midwest regional of the NCAA Tournament.

Denver had the chance to tie the game up at one apiece early in the second period, but a Pioneers shot ricocheted off the top-right corner of the post.

"Any time it hits the post, you kind of take a sigh of relief," UW defenseman Kyle Klubertanz said. "Posts are a part of the game. They're a goalie's best friend."

"Shane was solid for us," Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves added. "He had his best friend the pipes there a couple times."

Connelly faced 32 shots on the night, allowing just two goals. The Wisconsin defense also blocked 23 Denver shots, something that caused a sense of frustration on the Pioneer offense.

"We shot the puck very well all game," Denver captain Andrew Thomas said. "We put a lot of bodies in front of [Shane] Connelly; unfortunately we couldn't put it in."

Perhaps Connelly's most impressive stretch of the night came late in the first period, as Denver was on the power play following a penalty on UW's Ryan McDonagh. The Badgers were unable to clear the puck out of the zone for the entire two minutes, but Connelly continued to stand on his head defensively.

"They were in there for two minutes. [It was] just a wonderful job by the penalty kill," Connelly said. "We were real tired out there but, this time of year you've got to get the job done. It was a tremendous job by the penalty kill all night, but especially early on to keep them off the board."

Making Connelly's job easier were his defensemen, who repeatedly denied Denver of any second-chance opportunities off rebounds. Whenever Connelly would give up a rebound, there were his teammates to clear the puck away and give their goalie a chance to regroup.

"They started off by blocking shots and then they did a good job of picking everyone up at the net," Connelly said. "If I'm only having to make one save instead of two or three, it's going to be a lot easier night for me. … Excellent job by the defensemen and forwards."

But as Klubertanz pointed out, it's a two-way street on defense. The goaltender and defensemen need to rely on each other as a unit, something the Badgers executed successfully against the Pioneers.

"I think the 'D' played pretty well tonight," Klubertanz said. "He helped us out, we helped him out, so it was a group effort at the back end. It's huge anytime, especially in the playoffs. You've got to do that; you've got to eat pucks and help the goalie out as much as you can."

Connelly talked after the game about a journal he has kept since Squirts and uses as motivation before every game. In it are inspirational phrases and notes from previous games from which Connelly uses to prepare.

The three he had for the Denver game: "Take control." "Have a mission." "Best version of me."

So was Saturday's performance the best version of Connelly to date this season?

"He was big for us, especially coming off [his] performance at St. Cloud," Klubertanz said. "Good goalies, they respond. He was huge for us tonight, and we love to see that out of Shane.

Following the performance two weekends ago at St. Cloud alluded to by Klubertanz — a Friday game in which he was pulled after the first period, and Saturday's four-goal contest — Connelly was given another chance to prove himself. And he responded in a big way, making glove saves and kicking the puck away time and time again, squelching any scoring threat the Pioneers tried to throw at him.

"Last time (against St. Cloud) was a tough game," Connelly said. "I just wanted to make sure to get into the game early, know that I'm going to be there to make the stops I'm supposed to make and keep us in the game. It's a little bit of extra motivation for me to make them believe I can take control of the game."

Facing a strong goaltender in Denver's Peter Mannino forced Connelly to raise his level of play Saturday. When Wisconsin and North Dakota clash Sunday for the chance to advance to the Frozen Four, he'll be opposite another impressive netminder in UND's Jean-Philippe Lamoureux, a Hobey Baker candidate.

"He's an extremely incredible goaltender," Connelly said of Lamoureux. "It's a little bit extra motivation knowing he's going to be there to shut the door for his team. They have confidence in him, and I just want to have the same with my team."

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