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Saturday, February 24, 2024
Revenge a priority as Badgers host Pioneers

stepan: Derek Stepan and the Badgers lost all five of their matchups with Denver last year. The two teams meet again Friday and Saturday.

Revenge a priority as Badgers host Pioneers

Eleven months ago, the Denver Pioneers entered the Kohl Center for a home series against the Badgers with a lot on the line. At the time, Wisconsin, Denver and North Dakota were fighting for the WCHA's regular season title and the MacNaughton Cup, and in two of their final three series of the 2008-'09 season, the Badgers would face both of those teams.

In the first game of the series, Wisconsin took a 3-2 lead into the dying minutes of the third period, but could not convert on a pair of open-goal chances and with 15 seconds to go, Pioneer forward Joe Colborne scored to send the game to overtime. The Badgers never recovered—not for the rest of the game nor the rest of the regular season—as Denver scored less than a minute into the extra frame and romped to a 5-0 win the next night.

Including that series, Wisconsin was 1-1-4 in the final six games of last year's regular season. The Badgers took third at the WCHA Final Five tournament, which included another loss to Denver, and missed out on the NCAA tournament.

This weekend, No. 3 Wisconsin will welcome the No. 1 Pioneers to Madison once again, and according to sophomore forward Derek Stepan they will do so with a chip on their shoulder, having gone 0-5-0 against Denver in the 2008-'09 season.

""Some of the older guys will say to you, ‘hey we owe these guys a couple, we've got to go out and make sure we get the job done tonight,'"" Stepan said.

""We didn't win a single game against them ... That kind of gives you a little incentive to beat them.""

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Head coach Mike Eaves disagreed—he believes the biggest motivation will come from Denver's spot atop the national college hockey rankings.

""I don't think that you can get too hung up on looking at that too much,"" Eaves said of the teams' last meeting. ""It's [a] new team, new look for both teams in many ways and both teams are playing well and come in highly ranked.""

To take down the Pioneers, Wisconsin will need to recover from a poor showing in the second game of its series against Colorado College last Saturday. Despite shutting the Tigers out 4-0 in the first game, the Badger defense surrendered four goals and a late comeback fell short as Wisconsin lost 6-5. Eaves blamed that loss on the disadvantage the Badgers gave themselves in the first period.

""You can lump it into one statement: We had a bad start ... when you have a start like the one we had, you can comeback but it's a tough task,"" Eaves said. ""In that game we ran out of time, but we put ourselves in a hole by having a bad start.""

""We just got away from our game ... and for that we gave up four goals in the first period,"" freshman forward John Ramage said. So we've just got to get back to playing our game and shut down the other team.""

This series is the latest in a string of games against very strong opponents. Wisconsin is currently six games through a 10-game stretch in which it will face six opponents, five of which are ranked in the top seven nationally. The Badgers are 3-1-2 in their past six games, and Eaves said these next few games will be some of the most important of the season.

""We were in a defining moment last year as well,"" he said. ""We had six games at the end of the year that could have projected us into the top, and it was a series with Denver that was a turning point for us. So once again, we're here.""

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