DENVER -- For a team six games below .500, Wisconsin (1-7-3, 1-5-3 WCHA) skated to a 1-1 tie on Friday night against WCHA-leading Denver (9-3-1, 7-1-1 WCHA) and showed why it could just as easily be a winning team.
Through 11 games this season, eight have been decided by a goal or less. The Badgers have also endured four overtime contests so far this season, with the most recent coming inside Magness Arena after the Pioneers scored a goal with 1:56 left in the third period to knot things up and force the tie.
Despite surrendering the late goal and ending the night with a tie, it was an encouraging showing for a team just looking to get back on track.
"We got one point and it could've been none," UW assistant coach Gary Shuchuk said. "Playing in this altitude, you think guys would get tired. They must be in pretty good shape, because they played all 60 minutes."
Entering the game with the No. 1 scoring offense in the WCHA, averaging 4.38 goals per game, the Pioneers were blanked nearly the entirety of the game by UW goalie Joel Rumpel (Swift Current, Saskatchewan), who recorded 30 saves on the night.
Also known as one of the best in the WCHA at scoring, Michael Mersch (Park Ridge, Ill.) gave Rumpel and the Badgers a late cushion at the 7:06 mark of the third period.
After Derek Lee (North Vancouver, B.C.) won a faceoff in the Denver zone, Joseph LaBate got the puck to the point to John Ramage (St. Louis), who fired a shot towards goal. Mersch, was in front to redirect the puck between Denver goalie Juho Olkinuora's legs and in to make it 1-0.
Mersch's ninth goal in 11 games this season sparked the Badgers with late momentum, making a comeback a difficult task for the Pioneers.
After Frankie Simonelli (Bensenville, Ill.) was called for interference at the 10:08 mark of the third period, the UW penalty kill utilized its newfound energy and came up with a big penalty kill. The defensive persistence of Sean Little (Fond du Lac, Wis.) during the power play epitomized the late-game efforts, as the junior sacrificed his body, sliding in front and blocking a shot on goal just before the power play expired.
Leading the conference with a total of 35 goals through eight games this season, the second-most productive scoring period for the Pioneers has been the third period. It proved productive enough on Friday night as well, as Denver tied things up late.
Like UW's goal, Denver's came off a faceoff as defenseman Joey LaLeggia skated down the left boards and fired a sharp-angle shot that found room through Rumpel to tie the game at 1-1 with 1:56 left in the third period.
At the 2:09 mark of overtime, Jefferson Dahl (Eau Claire, Wis) was called for tripping behind the UW net. With the Badgers on their way to killing off the power play and holding the Pioneers to an 0-for-3 night with the man advantage, Dahl would make a dramatic return. Coming out of the box with 42.5 seconds left, Dahl got free on a breakaway, but Olkinuora countered with a great diving, stick save on Dahl's backhand try.
Wisconsin looks to earn its first win since Oct. 26 against Minnesota Duluth, as the Badgers and Pioneers face off again Saturday night at 8 p.m. (CT).
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