Wisconsin (28-10-4), runner up in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, meets Boston College (28-10-3), runner up in Hockey East, at 6 p.m. Saturday in the Division I final at Ford Field in Detroit on ESPN. In their last title meeting, in 2006, Wisconsin won 2-1 in Milwaukee.
Here’s a preview from Andy Baggot of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison and Nancy Marrapese-Burrell of the Boston Globe:
Andy Baggot, Wisconsin State Journal
DETROIT — This long, joyous quest was built upon the tiniest of numbers.
When members of the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team began preparing for this season 10 months ago — that’s right, in June — they donned the same red shirts with the same taunting message for their daily conditioning sessions.
The Badgers missed qualifying for last year’s NCAA tournament by 0.002 of a percentage point. One more goal scored, one more shot blocked, one more save made, one more battle won or one more second of focus maintained almost certainly would have gotten them in.
That number was screen-printed on the back of all those shirts. It was a reminder that no detail is too small to gloss over, that whatever agony was felt during training runs up Bascom Hill or lifting sessions at the Kohl Center was nothing compared to the pain of underachievement.
“We had that feeling in our stomachs the whole summer and the whole year,” UW junior defenseman Brendan Smith said.
It has given way to a feeling of anticipation as the second-ranked Badgers attempt to finish the season in euphoric fashion. They will seek the seventh NCAA title in program history tonight when they face third-ranked Boston College at Ford Field.
Long before their 8-1 romp over the Rochester Institute of Technology in a Frozen Four semifinal Thursday, UW players expected to be here. They also harbored thoughts of what it would be like to win it all tonight.
“Since my freshman year at Wisconsin, this has been a dream of mine,” UW junior defenseman and tri-captain Ryan McDonagh said. “I have thought about that moment a lot and worked hard to give myself the opportunity. Now that I’m here, I have to stay in the moment.”
Ben Street was a freshman center for the Badgers four Aprils ago when they held on for a 2-1 victory over BC in their last NCAA title game appearance. With age has come perspective.
“I have had the opportunity to win it and I remember that feeling,” said Street, now a senior left winger and tri-captain who gained an extra year of eligibility following a season-ending knee injury last year. “The last few years we have come up short and I remember that feeling even better.”
The championship game has all the earmarks of a classic duel given the strengths and intentions of the teams as well as the fact it’s a rematch of their epic 2006 final in Milwaukee.
The Badgers average 4.07 goals per game; BC sits at 4.05.
UW has allowed 2.52 goals per game; the Eagles are at 2.54.
The Badgers have converted 20.9 percent of their power plays; BC is at 20.8.
The inherent closeness of the clubs doesn’t just cover the short term. In 20 meetings in a series that dates to 1970 — including Frozen Four matchups in 1990 and 2006 — the goal differential is 72-71.
The similarities between UW and the Eagles extend to the fact that both played outdoor games this season before crowds that exceeded the 34,954 that showed up for the semifinals.
The Badgers knocked off Michigan 3-2 before 55,031 at Camp Randall Stadium Feb. 6, while BC lost to Boston University 3-2 before 38,472 at Fenway Park in Boston Jan. 8.
Those experiences helped prepare the teams for the Frozen Four, which is being played in a stadium venue for the first time and is expected to draw close to 38,000 fans.
By all accounts, the matchup tonight will come down to which set of defensemen is best able to dictate its will.
Legendary BC coach Jerry York has been in the game for 38 seasons and can’t recall seeing a deeper, more talented set of blue-liners than the Badgers have.
“They’ve really got some outstanding players there,” he said. “They’re big, they’re very physical and they handle pucks extremely well. So that’s more than a key to our approach. We’ve got to limit their input in their offense.”
By the same token, UW coach Mike Eaves wants to see what his veteran forwards can do against the Eagles, who have three freshmen and two sophomores in their top six.
“It’s about us doing what we would like to do, and that’s get the puck and put pressure on the defense,” he said. “I think that will be a key factor.”
Four years after their gripping final at the Bradley Center, some things have changed and some things have stayed the same.
Eaves said the Eagles are “very similar” to the ’06 edition because “they like to have small, quick, competitive forwards and sprinkle in some size.”
York said the Badgers are different than ’06 because instead of a defensive mentality, “they’ve got players now that can play an open game so they’re a little more balanced.”
Given the history and respect between the two programs — Eaves’ two sons, Ben and Patrick, played for York at BC — it’s reasonable to expect this meeting will be especially entertaining.
At some point, UW’s players may have to reach down and recall all the work they put in getting ready for this season. They will remember the pain. They will remember that tiny number. They will remember thinking about what it would be like to win the NCAA title a year removed from such utter disappointment.
“More than getting caught up in it, we use it as motivation,” Street said. “Let’s win it and then experience what that feeling is like.”
By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell of the Boston Globe
DETROIT — When the Boston College men’s hockey team arrived at Fenway Park for practice before their Jan. 8 game against archrival Boston University, most of the players were awestruck. A hockey rink in a baseball stadium? It seemed surreal, particularly to those who grew up watching the Red Sox, and to many of the fans in attendance, too.
The Bruins had played the Flyers a week earlier in a thrilling Winter Classic and there was a similar atmosphere, although decidedly more local, for the college matchup.
It was that experience that helped the Eagles adjust to mammoth
The last time the squads met in the final was in 2006, the Badgers eking out a 2-1 victory in Milwaukee. Wisconsin (28-10-4) is back in the Frozen Four for the first time in four years. BC has been in the title game four of the last five years, winning it in 2008.
It’s hard to imagine BC (28-10-3) playing a more flawless game than it did against the RedHawks, who at times looked as if they were skating in cement against the quicker and more opportunistic Eagles, who have won eight in a row and are unbeaten in 12 (11-0-1).
Wisconsin, too, skated circles around RIT Thursday. The Badgers have won four in a row and six of seven. BC coach Jerry York and Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves are well acquainted. York tried to recruit Eaves to Clarkson when he was the coach. York had more success with Eaves’s sons, Patrick and Ben, both of whom played for York at BC.
“It’s going to be small things that determine the outcome of the game,’’ said York. “A big save by or maybe a key block by one of our defensemen. There’s not going to be a lot separating the two teams but those small, little details are probably what differentiates these two clubs. They’re going to have good offense and good defense but we’ve played teams similar to Wisconsin over the course of the year.
“We haven’t been in a cocoon. We’ve played really strong games in Hockey East and we scheduled some pretty rugged foes outside the league, too.’’
The Eagles’ offense has been well chronicled, with sophomore Cam Atkinson leading the way with 51 points in 41 contests. Junior Brian Gibbons is second with 48 points. Wisconsin counters with four players with 50 points or more — sophomore Derek
There are aspects of the Badgers that remind York of certain teams in Hockey East, but no one team is a dead ringer, except perhaps BC.
“Boston University certainly had some outstanding defensemen this year that would be very similar to Wisconsin’s defense,’’ York said. “I think New Hampshire’s forwards are probably similar to some of the Wisconsin forwards. Their goaltender is an excellent goaltender, but we’ve seen [Brian] Foster at New Hampshire and we’ve seen Kieran [Millan] at BU.
“We’ve seen some excellent, excellent goaltenders. I think Wisconsin is the same way. They’re not going into the game thinking they haven’t seen a team like BC before. They play in a very strong conference. So we’ve both seen opponents like ourselves within our league or at least bits and pieces of them.’’
One thing York is sure of: Tonight’s contest will not be similar to the finals matchup four years ago.
“They’re different than the team we played in 2006,’’ said York. “That team was one that wanted to play a 1-0 game or 2-1-type game. They were much more defensive. Now, with Geoffrion and Stepan, they have players who can break out games. So there’s a little more balance to the Badgers than there was in 2006. They’re a pretty good club.’’