Now the Badgers, likely done for the season after tomorrow's third-place game after being shutout 3-0 by the Pioneers in the WCHA Tournament Semifinals, will have more than seven months to think what could have been.
"They matched up well against us this entire season," senior goalie Shane Connelly said. "They made more key plays (than we did) this season."
Although there is still a remote chance 16th-ranked Wisconsin (19-16-4) can tiptoe into the 16-team NCAA Tournament next weekend. But with UW sitting 20th in the PairWise Rankings and need a plethora of things to domino in their favor, Wisconsin can point to going 0-5-0 against Denver (23-10-5).
Adding salt to the wound was the Pioneers breaking their post-season ineptitude against Wisconsin (winning for the first time in 12 tries) while remaining perfect (9-0) in their last four trips to the Final Five.
"They got the timely goals from their key players -- the key players they had in their lineup," said head coach Mike Eaves, referencing that his team lost to a Denver team playing without key front-line centers Tyler Bozak (knee) and Tyler Ruegsegger (knee).
After stopping center Jesse Martin twice at the doorstep, Connelly (26 saves) had little chance to make up for a Wisconsin turnover. Creating a turnover at the blue line, junior Brian Gifford blew a slap shot over Connelly's glove at 4:40, registering just his fourth goal of the year to open the scoring.
It was a sign of things to come for Denver, as the Pioneers got the bounces all season long against the Badgers.
"We did a pretty good job against a team that is very effective when they get possession of the puck down below the goal line," Denver head coach George Gwozdecky said. "I think that was an area that really helped us."
After Matt Cheverie (42 saves) was the beneficiary of a Jamie McBain's shot glancing off the post and another one that was deflected off the cross bar to end the first half, Denver doubled its lead when
Forward Luke Salazar's pass split the defensemen, allowing Kyle Ostrow a wide-open look, which he converted on from between the hash marks by faking low and going top shelf to score top shelf on Connelly.
"We were missing a couple of our top offensive guys so we knew that we had to focus in on defense this weekend," Gifford said.
With no results to match the effort, it was only fitting that Patrick Wiercioch put the final nail in UW's coffin. On Denver's second and final power play of the game, Wiercioch, the one-time Wisconsin commit, snapped a wrist shot past a screened Connelly at 13:59 in the third period.
Wisconsin's best scoring chance came with 32.6 seconds left, as the Badgers seemed to exact a small dose of revenge on Cheverie when senior Tom Gorowsky appeared to register his 13th goal of the season when, as he slid flat on his stomach past the net after being slashed from behind, knocked the loose puck with his right skate into the net.
After an extensive review, however, it was ruled by head referee Don Campion that Gorowsky intentionally kicked the puck into the back of the net and waved off the goal.
Despite out shooting the Pioneers 42-29 and the Pioneers playing without two of their top centers, Wisconsin could never break through against Cheverie, who shut out UW for the second time this season.
"He didn't really have to make that many key saves," McBain said. "It was disappointing that we couldn't put up more of a fight."