Denver Hockey Series Preview: Wisconsin

No. 8 Denver looks to continue its success on the road this weekend against the Wisconsin Badgers

With 2018 in the books, the #8 Denver Pioneers and head coach David Carle have to be happy with the progress the team has made thus far.  Their record is 10-4-2 going into this weekend’s series at the University of Wisconsin who is tied for first place in the Big Ten Conference.  The Pioneers are coming off a road sweep last weekend of Merrimack and UMass-Lowell.

One thing that really clicked last weekend was the powerplay.  The Pioneers scored three powerplay goals in their two games, one by Liam Finlay and two by Jarid Lukosevicius.  Those goals gave Denver some cushion in both games to pull away with the help of outstanding goaltending by Devin Cooley and Filip Larsson.  With the combination of special teams success, goaltending, and depth scoring, the Pioneers could find themselves gaining momentum at the right time of the season.

Denver could also find some reinforcements on the blue line with the return of Ian Mitchell who will likely play in this weekend’s series against Wisconsin after Team Canada was upset by Finland in the quarterfinal round of World Juniors.  Mitchell was emotional after the loss against Finland in Vancouver and it showed in his post-game interview.  During the interview, Mitchell, who wore an “A” on his sweater in the tournament, looks directly into the camera and says sorry to the Canadian community for letting them down.  He goes on to say how disappointed the team was for “not coming here for what we wanted.”  This speaks volumes to Mitchell’s character and the mentality behind Pioneer players that put the team, or in this case the nation, before themselves.

In NCHC news, Pioneers goaltender Filip Larsson earned Goalie of the Month honors in December.  Larsson went 2-0 beating North Dakota and UMass-Lowell.  He had a GAA of 0.96 and a save percentage of .963.

In other news, Madison.com released a story on assistant coach Steven Reinprecht and his ties to the Wisconsin Badgers hockey club.

Wisconsin Badgers (8-7-3)

The Badgers are riding a three-game win streak into the new year after defeating Penn State followed by a series sweep of Michigan State.  But when they face Denver this weekend, they will be without their leading scorer.  The Badgers will be without defenseman K’Andre Miller who is still competing in the World Junior Tournament with Team USA.  But there are plenty more talented players on their roster that the Pioneers will need to worry about.

Sophomore Sean Dhooghe currently leads the team in goals with nine and has five points in his last three games.  Dhooghe has a nice release on his wrist shot that comes off his stick fast and accurate.  He, Tarek Baker, and Seumas Malone will be the key players to watch this weekend for the Badgers who are their top playmaking forwards.

In net, the Badgers have been splitting games between junior Jack Berry and freshman Daniel Lebedeff.  Lebedeff won both games against Michigan State but suffered a concussion in November.  The Helsinki native is 5-3-2 this season with a GAA of 2.52 and a save percentage of .911.

It will be very interesting to see the gameplan from Badger head coach Tony Granado.  Their record shows they can score when they have to or clamp down to play a defensive team.  It seems like they can mimic the strategy of the team they’re playing.  For example, they can beat a Penn State team at their own game 8-5 or shut Minnesota down 3-1.  The Pioneers don’t need to score much to beat the Badgers, but they do need to limit quality chances which is something Denver has struggled with against quality opponents at times this year.  These two make for a great non-conference matchup and possibly could see each other in the postseason.

Prediction – Pioneers split with Wisconsin

Although my gut says go with the sweep, it’s hard to bet against a Badger team who is 7-2-1 at home this season.  Even though K’Andre Miller will be out, the Badgers are still very deep on defense and are a late game team.  This will be the hardest nonconference matchup the Pios have had this season only because the teams are so alike.  They have a hard working forward group with low-risk defense, and add great goaltending.  Either way, the Pioneers would really impress if they came away with a pair of wins here.

Twitter Follow – @BadgerMHockey

Where to Watch/Listen

Friday – 6:00pm MT, Big Ten Network Plus, ESPN DENVER 1600

Saturday – 6:00pm MT, Big Ten Network 2 Go, ESPN DENVER 1600