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Saturday, February 24, 2024
WCHA Playoffs commence as Badgers face Seawolves

Street: Senior forward Ben Street and the Badgers need to defeat Alaska-Anchorage to advance to the Final Five next weekend.

WCHA Playoffs commence as Badgers face Seawolves

If the regular season stood as a barometer of success in college hockey, the Badgers would have to be satisfied. Their second place WCHA finish is the highest since Mike Eaves took over as head coach in 2002. They ranked in the top-five nationally in goals scored, scoring average, scoring margin, shots allowed and scoring defense. Ultimately, though, the success of this team will be measured on what happens over the next four weeks.

Playoff hockey has arrived, and the Badgers kick off the postseason Friday by hosting the No. 9-seeded Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. The best-of-three series will send one of the teams to St. Paul for next weekend's Final Five and a chance to win the Broadmoor Trophy.

The Badgers swept the Seawolves in a November matchup at the Kohl Center. While Anchorage was outscored 11-3 on the weekend, it was not for a lack of toughness. The scrappy Wolverines, lacking the depth in personnel to match Wisconsin line-for-line, forced Wisconsin into 16 penalties in the first matchup by maintaining a physical presence before and after the whistle.

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""They're a wily, veteran team,"" senior forward Ben Street said. ""Their play will definitely be elevated because they've got their backs against the wall. Their only chance to make the [NCAA] tournament now is to win out.""

The Badgers will not have to worry about qualifying for the NCAA tournament, but this weekend can help the team move toward attaining a No. 1 seed. No matter what happens, though, this will be the last weekend in the familiar confines of the Kohl Center.

""We have talked so much about finishing in the top five just so we could play at home and play in front of our fans because it's such an advantage,"" Street said.

Wisconsin has indeed been very tough to beat at home this season, compiling a 13-3-3 record in Madison. Junior goaltender Scott Gudmandson boasts similarly impressive numbers, compiling a 7-1-3 record at home. Though Gudmandson is seeing regular playing time for the first time in his career, he is not completely without playoff experience.

His first postseason minutes came two seasons ago against St. Cloud State after starter Shane Connelly found himself benched, and Gudmandson believes it might help.

""I think that is something I can build on, even just that little bit of time,"" he said. ""It was a pretty special experience.""

After splitting time in net with fellow junior Brett Bennett for much of the year, Gudmandson appears to be the No. 1 goaltender moving forward. Neither played particularly well down the stretch, but Gudmandson said all he can do is focus on the task at hand and try to put his team in position to advance.

""You have to have a short memory and just learn from your mistakes,"" he said. ""The regular season doesn't matter now. This is the best time of year.""

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