DENVER -- Faced with the ultimate, absolute, do-or-die scenario, members of the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team took their last competitive breaths Sunday night.
The Badgers saw their season come to a bitter end with a 3-2 overtime loss to Denver in the decisive game of a best-of-three Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff series at Magness Arena.
It marked the second straight year that UW won the first-round series opener on the road, but failed to finish the deal. It happened at Colorado College last March and the pain now for the Badgers is no less excruciating than it was then.
“It was one of those games where, right now even, it feels like the outcome should have been different,” UW freshman goaltender Joel Rumpel said after turning in a mostly brilliant series. “We should have walked away with a victory.”
The decision extended a remarkable streak of overtime futility for the Badgers.
Since the season began in 2007‑08, they are 0-11-17 vs. league opponents as well as 0-4 in the playoffs.
UW was trying to become the third 10th seed in WCHA history to advance out of the first round — Michigan Tech did it in 1994 and Bemidji State in 2011 — but was unable to regain the momentum generated upon arrival here.
The Badgers (17-18-2 overall) opened with a 1-0 victory Friday night, but saw Denver break a 1-1 tie in the final 8 minutes en route to a 3-1 win Saturday night that set the stage for the winner-take-all duel.
It ended 1 minute, 40 seconds into the extra session when right wing Luke Salazar scored on a wrap-around, beating Rumpel and sending the Pioneers on to a berth in the WCHA Final Five that begins Thursday in St. Paul, Minn.
“The one thing we talked about before the game, one of our goals was, ‘Have no regrets,’ ” UW coach Mike Eaves said.
“They left everything out there.”
It was likely the last game junior defenseman and assistant captain Justin Schultz will play for UW.
Anaheim, the NHL club that owns his rights, is conveniently in town to face Colorado today and Ducks officials — including coach Bruce Boudreau — were in attendance poised to sign the reigning All-American.
“I’m not even thinking about that right now,” Schultz said.
Said sophomore center Mark Zengerle: “I went over to hug him and tears started coming down real quick. He is, bar none, the best player on this team, no question.”
Held without a point for the first two games of the series and looking to atone for a poor outing Saturday night, Zengerle accounted for a short-handed goal, while sophomore right winger Tyler Barnes provided the other for the Badgers.
Despite the loss, Rumpel did some extraordinary work en route to 30 saves. He came into the night having stopped 67 of 69 shots by the Pioneers in the series.
The Badgers were short-handed due to a questionable 5‑minute major penalty on freshman left winger Brendan Woods when Zengerle beat goaltender Sam Brittain (25 saves) with a wrist shot from the right circle 6:40 into the second period.
It was the 50th point of the season and second short-hander for Zengerle, whose third-period turnover Saturday enabled the Pioneers (23-12-4) to break a 1-1 tie.
An ill-advised cross-ice pass by freshman left winger Matt Paape set up the tying goal Sunday by left winger Ty Loney at 11:17, but Barnes soon offered an answer.
He drove down the right boards and dipped below the goal line before delivering a centering pass toward junior left winger and assistant captain Ryan Little at the right post. However, the puck clipped Brittain and tumbled into the net at 12:32.
The Pioneers were 0-for-13 on the power play vs. UW this season before center Nick Shore tied it early in the third. A shot by Jason Zucker from the right circle hit the far post, but Shore banged the loose puck home at 2:01.
Rumpel appeared to leave too much of the net exposed when Salazar went right to left around the cage for the winner.
“I was challenging him out on the shot and was hoping to cut down the angle a little bit,” Rumpel said.
“I just got a bad push across and he ended up tucking it off my skate and in.”