MILWAUKEE — “We’ve got one more game left.”
It may be one of the shortest quotes Adam Burish ever uttered, but it represents an important attitude of the Wisconsin men’s hockey team.
Two seasons ago, the Badgers surprised most of the country by coming within an overtime goal of the Frozen Four. Last year, it was not a huge surprise that they bowed out quickly in the first round.
But this season was different from the get-go. With an NCAA Regional and the Frozen Four in the state and a bevy of senior leadership and talent, everyone was expecting big things—the fans for sure, but also the players.
Burish’s quote represents a mindset. Perhaps there was not much disappointment, all things considered, the past two seasons. But to them, anything less than a win and a national championship here at the Bradley Center Saturday would be frustrating.
“As soon as the guys came to pat me on the hat [Thursday], the only thing that they were saying was just, ‘one more, one more, one more win,’” junior goaltender Brian Elliott said. “Everybody knew what we had to do. I wasn’t really worried about guys celebrating too much.”
“[Playing for a national title] is a dream come true,” sophomore defenseman Josh Engel said. “Coming from Wisconsin, playing for the Badgers … there’s nothing better than that.”
Perhaps what he should have said is that there would be nothing better than winning that championship. The players have made it clear that they will not be satisfied with anything but a title.
But standing in their way is one more solid day of climbing of their proverbial mountain and doing so against a hot team, Boston College.
“We know they’re explosive,” junior assistant captain Andrew Joudrey said. “They’re not the biggest team, but they’re really quick and can really hurt you on transition by making plays with their speed and catching you off guard.”
One huge reason for the Eagles’ explosiveness is forward Chris Collins. A “Hobey Hat Trick” finalist, Collins was second in the nation in a variety of major scoring statistics and notched a hat trick in BC’s 6-5 win over North Dakota Thursday.
“We have faced other high-offense teams in Colorado College and Minnesota,” senior defenseman Tom Gilbert said. “We have to be aware of where he is on the ice.”
And an exciting goaltending matchup will be nothing new for Badger fans. After three overtimes in the regional final, UW finally solved Cornell’s David McKee, and the Badgers got past 6-foot-7 rookie standout Ben Bishop against Maine. But Saturday will offer yet another intriguing battle between the pipes.
Much like Friday evening’s Skills Challenge, it will be a battle of East versus West. Boston College totes RBK Division I East First-Team All-American Cory Schneider, while Wisconsin boasts the West First-Team All-American Brian Elliott.
Together, they were the first two goalies to garner back-to-back shutouts when they both blanked their opponents in their respective Regionals.
“Cory has been there all year for them,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “It’s allowed their team time to get going in other facets. In hockey, you can’t overemphasize what a good goaltender can do.”
“We know that [Elliott’s] a very good goalie, so the more shots the better,” BC defenseman Brian Boyle said. “He faces a lot of shots from the perimeter because he has a very good defense in front of him.”
Beyond that, the game may once again come down to special teams, and at this point, the Badgers probably would not mind if that is the case.
Similar to Wisconsin, Boston College’s power-play numbers do not jump off the page, but have definitely been bolstered over the second half of the season. Then again, the man-advantage has been anything but for teams taking on UW lately. The Badgers have killed off 32 straight penalties.
“Their power play has gotten hot at the right time,” Eaves said. “We will try to continue to make it difficult for them to do what they want to do, pressure them when we can and have [Elliott] make the big saves when we need to.”
However cliché it may seem, numbers no longer matter at this point. This game is what the Badgers have been playing for since the season began, when Eaves brought out a variety of nostalgic memorabilia to open the year, including the school’s national championship trophies.
“In our four years we haven’t done anything like that and it was probably never a realistic goal to begin with,” Burish said. “Bringing the trophies out made it more of a reality.”
“We saw the trophies and knew what we wanted to accomplish,” sophomore Joe Pavelski said. “We had a goal set for us.”
That goal could be accomplished Saturday evening, when Wisconsin will look for its sixth national championship in front of a raucous and red crowd at the Bradley Center.