MADISON — Several thousand fans visited the Kohl Center Sunday night to celebrate the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team’s national championship, claimed Saturday night with a 2-1 victory over Boston College at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.
It was a festive occasion and the Badger players, coaches and administrators that went on stage were in a celebratory mood, exulting the team’s accomplishments and praising its vociferous fans.
Those fans who came early Sunday night, before the official opening of the pep rally, were treated to a replay of the championship game on the Kohl Center’s video screens. When the video showed Tom Gilbert’s championship-winning goal beating BC netminder Cory Schneider at 9:32 in the third period, the crowd erupted and let loose a “sieve” cheer for good measure. When the clock struck zero — a moment after Peter Harrold’s shot came within about an inch of sending the game to overtime — and the Badgers’ revelry began, the band busted out in song at the Kohl Center, and the crowd ushered in the beginning of Sunday’s program.
When it came time for All-American netminder Brian Elliott to speak Sunday night he deadpanned: “I saw a couple bored looks in the crowd last night so I wanted to just let that one hit the post for you guys.”
- Perhaps the loudest cheer of the night was elicited by junior wing Robbie Earl. One night after winning the Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player award, Earl brought the crowd to a frenzy. “This is the greatest moment of my life,” he said. “You don’t even know. Winning a national championship as a junior… Hopefully we’ll do it again next year.” The Toronto Maple Leafs own Earl’s draft rights and there is speculation that the speedy winger will turn professional this summer. Thus, the giddy response from the crowd Sunday to Earl’s statement. As reported in The Capital Times, though, Earl has not shut the door on a leap to the NHL.
- The Badgers will lose five seniors from this national championship squad, so all eyes are on underclassmen such as Earl, Elliott and freshman Jack Skille, who would seemingly have a chance to leap soon to the NHL. Elliott insisted after Saturday’s game that he wants to get his degree and finish his four years at UW. Skille, who the Chicago Blackhawks made the No. 7 overall pick in the first round of last year’s NHL Entry Draft, said Sunday he does not feel ready to make the jump.
“Right now I don’t feel like I’m ready to make that big step in my life,” Skille said. “To live on my own, cook on my own, pay my own bills. Everything. That’s stuff that I still have to learn how to do. And I have to mature as a person as well as a player. I think that’s a process that’s going to take a little bit of time. I think Coach Eaves will help me through that process and help me develop as a player too.”
- Wisconsin men’s hockey head coach Mike Eaves and women’s hockey head coach Mark Johnson won an NCAA championship as teammates on the 1977 Badger team. Sunday night they were united on the stage with their teams, when the UW women, who won an NCAA title two weeks ago, joined the men’s team for a joint celebration. It is the first time in NCAA hockey history that one school has claimed both national titles. In reference to the national title he was a part of as a player in 1977, Johnson said that as sweet as this experience was for the men’s and women’s players now, the memories and camaraderie among teammates only grow stronger with time. Eaves reiterated the statement he made Saturday night. After the title in 1977, he was so caught up in the euphoria of the moment that he does not remember any part of the on-ice celebration. He made a conscious effort to take a step back and enjoy every moment Saturday night.
- Near the end of the rally, men’s captain Adam Burish and his sister, women’s assistant captain Nikki Burish, were asked to engage in a good-natured debate about their two teams. Who, for instance, had the more impressive trophy? “Obviously ours, it came first,” Nikki said. “Our game was more exciting,” Adam responded.
- Fans were treated to another Brian Elliott moose call, just moments after the goaltender, in reference to the one he made at the college hockey awards show Friday night, said, “No moose call today.”
- Before Elliott could begin his speech a group of fans yelled out, “Happy Birthday Brian!” To which Elliott responded, “Thank you. I hit the big two-one at midnight last night. It was a good morning too.”
- A moment after Governor Jim Doyle finished his speech, zany defenseman Jeff Likens ambled up to the microphone for an impromptu theatrical impersonation, bellowing: “DOYLE RULES!”
- Many of the Badgers’ playoff beards had given way to clean-shaven looks. Ross Carlson chose to change his to a rather thick handle bar mustache.
They said it
Governor Jim Doyle: “I was the happiest guy in the Bradley Center last night because next week I’ll be having a great lobster dinner with lobster sent to me by the governor of Maine… “You know the governor of Massachusetts wouldn’t even bet on that (championship) game. He knew who would win.”
“Wisconsin truly is the center of hockey. Two weeks ago I had the great honor of proclaiming it women’s hockey day in the state of Wisconsin to honor our great women’s team… And today… I have declared… that April 9, 2006 is UW Badger men’s hockey team day throughout the entire state of Wisconsin.”
Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez: “We own college hockey.”
Adam Burish: “Let’s keep this party going for a while… tonight and tomorrow night and the night after. Let’s keep this thing going!”
Bloomington, Minn., native and All-American defenseman Tom Gilbert: “Growing up in Minnesota, this is the state of hockey right here.”
Mike Eaves: “To win a championship you have to weather a lot of storms. We were 18-2-2 at one point and our climbing days were pretty good. We ran into a few storms, we persevered and we grew character and forged our self into a championship team... It’s just been a fantastic year.”