As senior goalie Shane Connelly walked toward the bus taking the Badgers to their first WCHA Final Five in two years, Connelly simply smiled, shook his head and said ‘no more.'
Make no mistake about it, the Badgers are heading to Minnesota with two things on their mind – clinching the conference's automatic birth and exacting some revenge on the Denver Pioneers.
The 16th-ranked Badgers (19-15-4) can get one of six automatic bids for the NCAA tournament by winning their first WCHA Final Five playoff championship in more than a decade and the first step goes through the Pioneers, a squad that has beaten Wisconsin in all four previous meetings this season.
"With where are standings are, we have to beat the best to prove ourselves and prove the naysayers out there that we belong in the tournament," junior forward John Mitchell said. "We're on a little streak right now, we're playing well and we want to play Denver again."
After a five-game winless streak (the first two coming at the hands of Denver) cost Wisconsin a shot at its first MacNaughton Cup since 2000, the Badgers rebounded for a Senior-Day win over North Dakota and swept Minnesota State in the first round of the WCHA Playoffs in resounding fashion, outscoring the Mavericks 11-3 and out shooting them 111-58.
"With the split with North Dakota and the sweep, we're back on a confident streak and all four units are rolling," Mitchell said. "The good feelings have come back to the locker room."
In order for UW to bring home some hardware from the Xcel Energy Center and win its first Broadmoor Trophy since 1998, the Badgers will have to shake the Pioneer demons.
The Badgers allowed four, five, six and seven goals in games against fourth-ranked Denver (22-10-5) this season, worsening their record to 1-11-0 when allowing four goals or more in a game and have twice blown third-period leads against Denver, the latter seeing DU score with 15 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
"We've played some incomplete games against them," Eaves said. "We know we can play on the ice with them and put ourselves in a position to finish the job. We haven't done that yet. We have that opportunity once again."
UW might get a break Friday, as Denver could be without three front-line centers that combined for five goals, 10 assists and 15 points in Denver's four wins over UW.
UW has never lost a postseason game to the Pioneers (8-0 in the WCHA, 3-0 in the NCAA) dating back to 1970, but Denver is unbeaten (8-0) in its last four trips to the Final Five.
Although there's a remote chance that Wisconsin could qualify for the NCAA Tournament if they lose to Denver, the Badgers know that after successfully tempting fate to sneak into the tournament last season, they can take all the guesswork out with a couple of wins and a trophy to boot this time around.
"We're going in knowing that we want to control our own destiny," Mitchell said. "The last couple of years, we have had other teams around the country help us out and get into the tournament. We've always wanted to control our destiny and we can do that by winning these two games this weekend."
No.16 Wisconsin (19-15-4) vs. No.4 Denver (22-10-5) and either No.17 Minnesota-Duluth (19-12-8) or No.4 North Dakota (24-12-4)
Date/Time - Friday-Saturday, March 20-21 at 2/7 p.m. CT
Arena – Xcel Energy Center (18,064) - 200' x 85'
Television - Live on FSN Wisconsin and FSN North (tape delayed)
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Brian Posick and Mike Cerniglia)
Series – Wisconsin leads 71-54-9
Last Meeting – Wisconsin lost 5-0 at the Kohl Center on Feb.21.