When the 2004-05 men's hockey schedule was announced, all eyes shifted to one stretch on the schedule-the final five series. Included in those five weeks were all of the teams expected to join Wisconsin atop the standings come the end of the year. Sure enough, when the home stretch came around, Denver, Colorado College, Minnesota, North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth and Wisconsin were all in the top six in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
By the time that part of the season rolled around, the Badgers were 19-6-1, were a mainstay in the top five of the national rankings and were poised to make a run at the MacNaughton Cup, the trophy awarded to the WCHA season champion. The Badgers, in their own words, were good. That is why they adopted the motto, \going from good to great"" as their mentality for the final five weeks of the year.
Five weeks and a fourth-place finish later, Badger fans have been left scratching their heads, wondering why their team could not take that ""good to great"" step.
Instead of moving towards greatness, the Badgers seemingly treaded water in the pool of ""goodness,"" although some might argue that they even took a step backwards.
Wisconsin went 2-5-3 in those final 10 games, although a closer look shows that of those five losses, three were by one goal. Furthermore, the other two losses were by two goals and in each game the opposing team had an empty-net goal. So it is hard to say that the team took a step backwards.
However, the team has won only once in its last nine tries. It was a legitimate WCHA title contender, slipped to a solid third-place finisher, then crumbled to a fourth-place finish.
The team's power play unit, which had been among the best in the country during the first half of the season, fell off the map. The Badgers were 7-of-49 in the final 10 games.
""We created 38 shots on goal [Friday night] and that's more shots than we've had in a long time,"" Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said after the tie Friday. ""We have to turn our offensive ship around, but you don't do that in one [fell] swoop. I'd say the ship is halfway turned.""
However, outside of the struggles on the man-advantage, it is tough to point to an area where Wisconsin is truly lacking. There were games where the Badgers were slow out of the locker room. There were a few goals that senior goalie Bernd Br??ckler would like to have another chance at stopping. There are a few odd-man rushes that the Badgers would like to have another crack at.
For whatever reason, the Badgers just did not get the job done. Now they face a new task and a new trophy. If the Badgers can get by Alaska-Anchorage this weekend-which is no easy task, judging from last year's playoffs-the Badgers will have another chance to show that they can beat the teams that have beaten them the past five weeks.
They have not proven to be a great team up to this point, but there is still time. The Badgers need to focus on this weekend, and then the WCHA Final Five will be set up for them to avenge their late season losses and make a run at the Broadmoor Trophy, which goes to the WCHA playoff champion.
-USCHO.com contributed to this report.