MILWAUKEE — Moments after Boston College defenseman Peter Harrold’s desperation shot kicked off the far post with 1.7 seconds left to preserve the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team’s first national championship since 1990, the Badgers’ bench, and the heavily partisan Bradley Center crowd, erupted in a euphoric frenzy.
Few noticed that while Wisconsin’s celebration was progressing, referee Matt Shegos was checking the replay to make sure Harrold’s shot did not carom off the inside of the net. While the Badgers’ jubilation continued, Shegos signaled no goal, confirming what was obvious on replay: Harrold’s shot hit the pipe clean and bounded off harmlessly.
“I didn’t know that (it was reviewed),” freshman center Ben Street said in the locker room afterwards. “I remember seeing that thing hit the post. The hockey gods were with us then. The last couple seconds it was bouncing around and we did a good job blocking some shots. One gets through and hits the post. That can go the other way. But we’re real pleased that it didn’t.”
The Badgers could not even imagine what it would have felt like had the shot been ruled a goal.
“The parachute would have been punctured at that time I think is the best way to put it,” junior wing Ross Carlson said. “We were so out of breath at the end of that shift that I don’t even want to go into what would have happened.”
The post is a goalie’s best friend.
“We had a couple chances to get it out, but we didn’t earlier on in that sequence,” UW goalie Brian Elliott said. “Just knowing that there were so many bodies in front that I knew they couldn’t go short side. All they could do is go far side. I stuck a leg out there and hopefully I would have got it if it was inside the post.”
When a player hits a pipe, goalies like to say that was the only shot location they left available. Asked to confirm this creed – That was the only place you left him, right? — Elliott grinned and laughed. “Yep.”
“Peter shot it and I got a piece of it and I thought it went in,” BC forward Brian Boyle said. “I thought we tied it up but we didn’t and we lost a national championship. It’s not the best feeling in the world right now.”
Another close call
With Wisconsin dominating the third-period action following Tom Gilbert’s go-ahead goal, sophomore center Joe Pavelski had a couple of prime chances to make it 3-1 Badgers. Instead, BC ended up with a golden opportunity to tie the game with just more than two minutes showing on the clock.
While on a power play, Pavelski walked in on BC netminder Cory Schneider and fired the puck on net from the left circle. Soon thereafter Pavelski’s attempted wraparound kicked out to Gilbert at the point, but the senior defenseman whiffed on the puck, giving BC a short-handed odd-man rush.
It was not the scene Badger fans wanted to be watching: Hobey Baker finalist Chris Collins, one of the nation’s best goal scorers, cruised into the Badger zone and ripped a shot from the left circle. To UW’s relief it traveled a couple feet wide of the net.
Penalty kill outstanding again
A remarkable story throughout the postseason was the play of Wisconsin’s penalty killers. The Badgers blanked Boston College on its four power plays Saturday and in eight postseason games, including in the WCHA playoffs, UW was perfect on the penalty kill, forcing opponents to go 0-for-36 with the man-advantage.
The Badger players and coaches constantly attributed their penalty kill success this season to Elliott’s play in net. Saturday, however, UW held the Eagles without so much as a shot on four power plays.
“We knew that they didn’t like to set up on their power play, they just liked to just get it going off the rush,” Elliott said. “So we knew if we shut them down off the rush, forced them to the outside, that they’re not too good setting up, and our (penalty kill) has been great even if they get to set up. Just being able to put that goose egg up on the board on specialty teams was just unbelievable. It speaks a lot to our penalty kill and (assistant coach Mark Osiecki) that runs that.”
As Ben Street hopped over the boards and onto the ice midway through the first period, the puck slid past him and into Badger defensive zone. Street skated after it and tried to send it around the boards for a clear, but the puck bounded off BC forward Dan Bertram, who had done an impressive job of forechecking to put pressure on Street and the UW defensemen.
Bertram was able to throw the puck in front of the net, where it bounded over defenseman Davis Drewiske’s stick onto the blade of BC’s Pat Gannon, who deposited it into the net.
It was not exactly a plumb first period for Bertram though. He was called for three minor penalties.
Working for a win
The Badgers made several impressive hustle plays to keep the pressure on Boston College in the second half of the third period.
Street made a key defensive zone play, fending off a couple of Eagle skaters and kicking the puck up the side boards to linemate Jack Skille. The freshman wing then made a great play to chip the puck past a BC defenseman, resulting in a 2-on-1 for Skille and junior wing Ross Carlson. Skille’s hard shot from the right circle got through Schneider, but trickled off the side of the net, just to the right of the near post, and the BC netminder was able to cover up.
A few minutes later, Earl, the Frozen Four’s Most Outstanding Player, showed off his elite speed, out-skating a BC player to control a dump-in to the offensive zone before it crossed the goal line, warding off any chance of an icing call.
“Just little things win championships and that’s a little thing that maybe helped us win,” Earl said. “You’ve got to seize every moment and that’s a moment where I saw an opportunity and I took it.”
Moments later it was Carlson’s turn, skating hard to the crease to force Schneider to cover up a seemingly harmless shot.
Late in the game, UW, due to the intense forecheck of players like forward Jake Dowell, made it difficult for BC to pull Schneider from his net in favor of an extra attacker. Schneider was only able to reach the bench in the final 24 seconds.
“It’s just hard work and… everybody being able to play for each other,” Earl said.
Who removed the bench?
With about four-and-a-half minutes left in the second period, UW wing Nick Licari glided gingerly to the bench. He was hunched over after hurting his knee.
“I don’t think it’s too bad, but it definitely hurts,” he said. “But we won a national championship so it’s all good.”
Licari slid over the boards laboriously, and appeared to crumple to the ground. It turns out, however, that Licari’s spill was not due to his injury.
“I fell over because I thought the bench was there but it was the space for our runway,” Licari said with a laugh.
Licari was helped up by a trainer. He soon returned to the ice and played well the rest of the game.
“He asked if I was all right,” Licari said. “It’s the game of the year. I’m not going to get hurt. You can play through anything. As long as my leg’s not broken in half I’m good to go.”
Wisconsin’s championship was its sixth in school history. The Badgers also won the national title in 1973, 1977 (when current head coach Mike Eaves was the captain), 1981, 1983 and 1990 (when current assistant coach Mark Osiecki was an assistant captain).
With their sixth title, the Badgers now have the fourth most men’s hockey championships in NCAA history, breaking what had been a tie for fourth on that list with Minnesota. Michigan (9), North Dakota (7) and Denver (7) have more crowns than UW.
The Badgers’ national championship Saturday also marked the fifth consecutive title for the WCHA. Minnesota (2002 and ’03) and Denver (’04, ’05) had won the past four titles.
Wisconsin pulled off an impressive double this year with its women’s hockey team also winning the national title two weeks ago. Saturday’s Badger win marked the first time in NCAA history that the same school won both the men’s and women’s ice hockey national championships.
That also made two national titles for the Burish family. Senior Adam Burish was the captain of the men’s team, and senior Nikki Burish was an assistant captain on the women’s side.
Wisconsin’s national title came three years after perhaps the worst season in Badger men’s hockey history. UW went 13-23-4 in 2002-03 and finished eighth in the WCHA with a 7-17-4 mark. This year they finished the campaign 30-10-3. It is the sixth time in the modern era that the Badgers won 30 or more games in a season. The five UW seniors — Gilbert, Licari, MacMurchy, Burish and A.J. Degenhardt — experienced both the 13- and 30-win seasons, concluding their careers with a national championship.
MacMurchy and Kyle Klubertanz led UW with three blocked shots each Saturday. BC’s Tim Filangieri led all players with four blocks… Of UW’s 39 shots on goal, 15 came on the power play and 21 came from the line of left wing Robbie Earl (9), center Joe Pavelski (6) and right wing Adam Burish (6).
Pavelski’s 33 assists this season were the most for a Badger since Dany Heatley had 33 in the 2000-01 season.