WCHA PlayoffsGoaltending Key To Playoff Series

From: Rocky Mountain News
by Pat Rooney

The leader of the University of Denver hockey team believes the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs essentially are won or lost by goal-tenders.

Of the five WCHA series that begin tonight, none will match opposing goaltenders with the sort of postseason pedigrees boasted by the netminders for DU and defending national champion Wisconsin.

When the Pioneers and Badgers begin a best-of-three first- round series at Magness Arena tonight, the spotlight squarely will be on Wisconsin's Brian Elliott and the Pioneers' tandem of Glenn Fisher and Peter Mannino.

"Peter and Glenn have been sensational for us this season," said DU coach George Gwozdecky, who indicated that each of his veteran goaltenders will get a start in the first two games of the series.

"At times, they have stolen games for us. This is a goaltender's tournament. I think both Glenn and Peter shine and are at their best when everything is on the line. At this time of year, when the spotlight is magnified and every play is critical, that's when your true go-to guys really shine. And there's no question that those two are part of that go-to group we look to at this time of year."

Elliott, a Hobey Baker Award finalist when he helped lead the Badgers to the national title last year, is one of only seven goaltenders in the nation to post at least four shutouts this season. DU and Wisconsin have seen their goaltenders at their best in the teams' head-to-head matchups this season.

Fisher produced a 27-save shutout Nov. 10 at Wisconsin that helped spark DU's two-game sweep of the Badgers. Elliott made amends against Fisher on Jan. 6 at Magness, turning in a 33- save shutout that allowed Wisconsin to salvage a series split.

Not to be outdone, Mannino has gone 4-0-1 with a .929 saves percentage against the Badgers. All three goaltenders are ranked in the top four in the WCHA in saves percentage.

"They are the defending national champions and we've had four great battles against them this year," Gwozdecky said. "We were fortunate to come out on top in three of them. We know their strength is in goal in Brian Elliott. We know they play extremely hard defensively and are very physical, and they are going to play that way against us. In turn, we have great confidence in our two great goaltenders."

Perhaps just as important for the Pioneers is that they finally got their offense on track in the regular-season finale Saturday at Colorado College. After suffering consecutive shutouts and going a school-record 136 minutes, 56 seconds without a goal, the Pioneers scored five goals in about 43 minutes to rally for a tie.

For a team that relies heavily on rookies for offense, that scoring burst might provide a timely confidence boost as the Pioneers take aim at the nation's fourth- ranked scoring defense.

"If there was a time to come out of it, it was definitely then," DU freshman Tyler Ruegsegger said. "No one wants to go through those times. We finally drew a line and said, 'Enough is enough.' Hopefully, we can keep the momentum we had at the end of that game."

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