Wisconsin entered this year's NCAA Tournament having played six of the 15 other teams in the hunt for a national title. As the Badgers get ready for the Frozen Four this weekend in Detroit, however, the three teams standing between them an a national championship are unfamiliar to Wisconsin. Here is a look at the other three teams that will face off at Ford Field Thursday.
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Through the regular season and WCHA Tournament, Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves and his players often referenced ""intermediate goals,"" from hosting a first round playoff series to finishing in the top three of the WCHA to earning an extra day off in the Final Five. Now, with the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament looming, those intermediate goals have been replaced with immediate ones that the team must accomplish to fulfill the ultimate goal of bringing a national championship home to Madison.
Rivalry aside, the Twin Cities might be starting to feel a lot like home for the Wisconsin men's hockey team. The Badgers learned Sunday that they would be the top seed in the West Regional, hosted at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. This marks the third time in the last four weekends that the Badgers will play in the metropolitan area, and the second straight at the Xcel.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — With four of the top six teams in the country taking the ice at the Xcel Energy Center after becoming familiar with each other throughout the regular season, execution and energy stood as the main determinants.
Senior forward Aaron Bendickson says he is not a spotlight type of guy, that he doesn't like a whole lot of attention. It would be hard to imagine, however, that he did not enjoy his final seven minutes at the Kohl Center. The center scored his 10th and 11th goals of the season in a 12-second span to put the game out of reach in the third period and send the Badgers to the WCHA Final Five next weekend in St. Paul.
In the midst of Ryan Miller's string of dominating performances between the pipes for Team USA in the Olympics, Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said that a hot goaltender ""can steal you a series, can steal you a cup, can steal you a national championship."" After sweeping Alaska-Anchorage and punching a ticket to the WCHA Final Five next weekend in St. Paul, it appears that UW junior goaltender Scott Gudmandson is heating up at the right time.
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.
MINNEAPOLIS—On the last weekend of the regular season, Wisconsin had a chance to secure the No. 2 for next week's WCHA Tournament and enter the postseason riding a wave of momentum. Consider that mission half accomplished.
Maybe Michigan Tech is not the most prolific opponent Wisconsin has faced this year, and maybe the match up fails to grab the attention that becomes virtually commonplace in the WCHA, but good luck convincing the Badgers that this is a throwaway weekend. They have the chance to come back from Houghton, Mich., with a home playoff berth and sole possession of second place in the league wrapped up, and that stands as plenty of incentive. The puck drops from the MacInnes Student Ice Arena at 7 p.m. both Friday and Saturday in the second season series between the Badgers and the Huskies.
During his playing days, now three decades past, Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves responded to concussions the way most athletes of the time did: he played through them, figuring a simple headache was no reason to miss action. Today, however, Eaves can draw on personal experience and modern medical knowledge from the team's doctors as he monitors the status of senior forward Blake Geoffrion.
In college sports, a matchup of teams ranked in the top five nationally usually brings hoopla, hype and the sense of a special occasion. For Wisconsin this weekend, its just another week in the thick of the WCHA title race.
When you are a WHCA hockey team chasing the McNaughton Cup, like this year's Badger squad, four-point weekends are supremely beneficial, even necessary at times. Usually, in order to sweep a conference opponent, one team must out play the other for a vast majority of the 120 minutes of action in a series. At the Kohl Center this weekend, Wisconsin separated itself from Minnesota State by controlling play during penalty minutes, of which the two teams racked up a combined 109. Put another way: The Badgers' special teams units throttled the Mavericks this weekend, and UW is still in the race for a league title because of it.
Every year, the four weeks of February seem to produce a knockdown, drag-out fight for bragging rights atop the WCHA, and this year is no different. With four weeks remaining in the regular season, the top five teams are separated by only four points. The Badgers (11-6-3 WCHA, 16-7-4 overall) enter the stretch run looking to gain ground against a Minnesota State team that has long since exited the race and is attempting to play spoiler. The puck drops at 8 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday night at the Kohl Center.
Wisconsin junior defenseman Brendan Smith entered Saturday's Culver's Camp Randall Hockey Classic leading the team with three game winning goals, but his fourth is going to be tough to top.
On Feb. 11, 2006, the Wisconsin men's hockey team downed Ohio State 4-2 in front of 40,890 brave souls at Lambeau Field. Ben Street, a freshman at the time, notched an assist in that contest.
DULUTH, Minn.—Coming into this weekend's series with league-leading Minnesota-Duluth, the No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers had the top of the WCHA square in the crosshairs. That target looked even more attainable after a 5-2 victory on Friday night that featured good goal play and stellar special teams. However, UW slipped drastically in both areas Saturday night, took a season-high 13 penalties, looking completely destitute in a 4-0 loss.
For the second weekend in a row, the Badgers are set to tangle with a top dog. Last weekend, Wisconsin went toe to toe with the top-ranked team in the country and came away with three points. Now it travels to Duluth with a chance to deliver a similar performance and dethrone the current WCHA leader.
If there was any question as to what a series between two premier college hockey teams should look like, the No. 3 Wisconsin Badgers and No. 1 Denver Pioneers provided a clear answer at the Kohl Center this weekend. After battling back from a two-goal deficit in a frantic third period to force a tie on Friday night, Wisconsin took to the ice on Saturday in front of a sell-out crowd and grabbed an early lead. Denver clawed back into the game late, but senior forward Michael Davies notched the game winner for the Badgers with less than seven minutes to play, earning UW a three-point weekend while solidifying a spot in the thick of the conference championship race.
The No. 3 Wisconsin men's hockey team blew out of the gate against No. 8 Colorado College Friday night, tallying its first goal less than a minute into the game en route to a dominating 4-0 victory. But the Badgers then gave up four first-period goals, and, despite a comeback, fell 6-5, splitting the series and missing a chance to gain ground in the race for the MacNaughton Cup.
In a league as talented as the WCHA, seemingly every weekend produces compelling matchups. For the Wisconsin men's hockey team, this weekend's trip to Grand Forks, N.D., is one that has been circled on the calendar for a long time. The No. 11 Badgers (7-4-1 WCHA, 10-5-1 overall) close out the 2009 portion of their schedule with a two game showdown at Ralph Engelstad Arena against rival North Dakota (9-5-2, 6-5-1).