UW Men's Hockey team proves they deserve berth
Last night the Badger men's hockey team did everything they could to silence all the naysayers that said they didn't deserve to be included in the 16-team NCAA championship tournament when the beat the University of Denver 6-2. I actually had to DVR the game and watch it later, so I knew the score before I started watching it. Through 2 periods, there was little sign that this game was going to end up the way it did.
The Badgers were just 1-5-1 in their final games of the season. They lost in the first round of the WCHA tournament to St. Cloud State.
Denver, on the other hand, entered last night's game on a 5 game winning streak and having been crowned champions of the WCHA tournament.
Coach Mike Eaves had said all week that he was a little concerned about his team being rusty since they'd had two weeks off since their last game, but there was no rust to be found on any of the Badger players last night. They won 40 faceoffs. They scored two break-away goals. While Denver hit the post four times without putting any of them in, when Cody Goloubef hit the post, his shot rebounded and slowly slid into the back of the net.
The Badgers had had a frustratingly streaky, unlucky and just plain painful season and last night's game couldn't have been more out of character for this team. Apparently being told they didn't deserve their tournament berth was the spark the team needed to ignite an offensive burst that had been lacking all season.
Penalty situations, both for and against the Badgers, had been a problem all season. We were awful at killing the penalty and gave up more short-handed goals than I'd care to remember. Last night, there were no signs of that as the Badgers killed all but one penalty while scoring their own power-play goal. (There was a point during the season where a player from Colorado College had as many goals during OUR power plays as we did!)
This was a team who all season long seemed like they couldn't catch a break. That's not to sat that they didn't have their fair share of bad games and worse decisions, but if ever there were a team that it seemed couldn't buy a break, this team was it. You only have to look at that series in Denver to see what I mean.
But all that came about 180 degrees last night. Instead of being on the wrong side of right-place-right-time opportunities, it seemed like Wisconsin had noting but those types of goals last night.
Michael Davies scored the first goal when he found himself alone in front of the back post and a shot was deflected right to his feet and he was able to put behind Denver goalie Peter Mannino who was completely out of position.
The first period ended 1-0.
In the second period, the Badgers got another deflection goal as defenseman Jamie McBain was camped on the post and was able to put his stick out and deflect a shot up and over Mannino's glove.
UW goalie Shane Connelly had a stellar game recording 30 saves.
The score was 2-1 until 10:41 left in the third period and I couldn't help thinking to myself while I was watching my recording that I couldn't imagine that this Badger team was going to hit 4 goals in the final 10 minutes (the aforementioned post-ringer that deflected in by Goloubef.)
John Mitchell scored exactly a minute later when he found himself with the puck in the neutral zone and he just plain out-skated two Denver defenders to have a breakaway on the net where he five-holed Mannino. Mitchell's an undrafted free agent and a rather large guy who just seemed to find another level of acceleration when he received the puck. The kid has some serious wheels.
A few minutes later, Micheal Davies scored his second goal of the night in much the same manner as Mitchell as he received the puck on the Wisconsin half of the ice and burned the Denver defense and five-holed Mannino.
Captain Davis Drewiske finished up the scoring with an empty-netter from near the blue line with under 3 minutes to go.
That 4 goal period is one of the two highest-scoring periods against Denver all season. The other is a 3 goal first that UW had the day after that controversial game. No other team has scored more than 2 goals in one period against DU all year.
The argument will likely be made about Wisconsin having home-ice advantage, but even that doesn't score you 4 extra goals.
The Badgers clearly had a chip on their shoulder and felt they had something to prove. Not only had they been getting crap about their undeserved berth, but the controversial game in Denver was a huge season-changer for UW. That one loss decided that we played St. Cloud in St. Cloud in the opening round of the WCHA tournament. We were one loss below .500. That one loss that should have gone to OT had to be on the minds of the players last night.
And let's not forget that Denver is hosting the Frozen Four this year. Wisconsin just crushed their hopes of hosting the finals in their home state, much like Wisconsin did in 2006.