DU Ready To Crush Wisconsin Again
From: Denver Post
by Mike Chambers
Since University of Denver juniors Peter Mannino and Andrew Thomas were freshmen in 2004-05, the Pioneers have participated in nine games against teams that have combined to win three of the past five NCAA championships.
This weekend, Mannino, Thomas and two classmates will suit up for one of those star-studded games for the 10th and 11th times.
DU, the 2004 and 2005 national champion, hosts reigning NCAA champion Wisconsin in a two-game WCHA series at Magness Arena.
The Pioneers are 3-5-1 in such matchups, all against WCHA foes. In 2004-05, they went 1-2 against Minnesota, which won the national title in 2002 and 2003, and 0-3-1 against the Gophers last season in games that featured teams that won the previous four NCAA crowns. DU is 2-0 this season against Wisconsin, having won 2-0 and 4-3 (overtime) in November in Madison, Wis.
Mannino said playing in these type of games is primarily why he chose DU and the WCHA, the 10-team league that has captured a record 36 NCAA crowns, including the past five and six of the last seven.
"Before I committed, (the Pioneers) had six championships and a tradition of winning in the WCHA, so that was obviously a reason I came here," the goalie said. "Since I arrived, you've really seen how special the WCHA is. It allows for great matchups like this."
Thomas, a defenseman, said, "being part of the WCHA, you have to come to play every night. If you don't want to play the best teams annually, this conference is not for you."
This weekend's series marks the beginning of the second half of the WCHA season for two teams heading in the opposite directions.
The Pioneers are on a six-game unbeaten streak (5-0-1) and in good position to qualify for the NCAA Tournament after failing to make the 16-team field last season. The Badgers already have lost 10 games.
DU coach George Gwozdecky, who played for Wisconsin's 1977 NCAA title team along with Badgers coach Mike Eaves, knows the frustration of having a talented team struggle with the rigors of the WCHA while seeking a consecutive NCAA crown.
"You really can't appreciate it until you go through it," Gwozdecky said. "You've got the target on your back, on your chest and on your forehead, everywhere you go.
"And not only do you have to battle your opponent, but you have to battle against the complacency of reaching the ultimate goal, and having to regenerate that enthusiasm and energy, and knowing it's going to be harder."
It won't be hard for DU to have fire in its eyes this weekend, in another marquee series that further highlights the WCHA's national dominance.
"It says an awful lot about the commitment the universities have made, how good the players are, how hard the coaches have to work, and the great support the teams get from the fans and boosters," Gwozdecky said.
Former WCHA commissioner Otto Breitenbach died Tuesday at a hospital in Madison. He was 82. Breitenbach headed the league for 10 seasons (1983-94). In that time, the WCHA won three national titles and had five Hobey Baker Award winners.