April 7, 2006
NCAA Frozen Four
Rolling Four Lines...

By Mike Eidelbes

One could break down Saturday's championship contest between Boston College and Wisconsin bit by excrutiating bit. Rather than bog you down with the minutae, we've instead highlighted four reasons we think each team can skate away with the 2006 NCAA championship.

Boston College
Wisconsin
1. Chris Collins
A simple way to break down a game between two teams that appear evenly matched is to go with the squad that has the best player. In Saturday’s championship game, that player is Collins (goalies are excluded from this discussion). The senior from Fairport, N.Y., showed his mettle with three goals in the Eagles’ semifinal win against North Dakota and is a threat to score in any situation, which leads to…
1. Brian Elliott
The Badgers’ goaltender has been virtually unbeatable over the last month, having allowed a total of eight goals in his last nine starts. Elliott is the best college goalie since Michigan State’s Ryan Miller in terms of having a sixth sense – being able to feel where shooters are, even if he can’t see them – and keeping opponent second chances to a minimum by either swallowing the puck or steering the rebound away from pressure.

2. Wisconsin’s puck possession
Even though they rolled to a relatively easy win over Maine Thursday, the Badgers were uncharacteristically sloppy with the puck. Defensemen were trying to throw pucks up the middle rather than making the safe play along the wall or off the glass, and forwards attempted one-on-one moves on the rush rather than chipping the puck into the zone and gaining possession in the corner. As we learned in the first semifinal, guys like Collins and Nathan Gerbe make opponents pay dearly for such carelessness.

3. A different day, a different hero
Elliott gets a lot of credit for the Badgers’ strong season – and rightly so. The team’s top line of Adam Burish, Robbie Earl and Joe Pavelski garner a lot of attention, as does Tom Gilbert, the terrific senior defenseman. But the main reason Wisconsin has been so dangerous is that virtually anyone on their roster can step into the spotlight on a given night, a testament to coach Mike Eaves’ willingness to roll four lines and three defensive pairs regardless of situation. In the team’s win over Bemidji State in the Midwest Regional first round, it was Pavelski with a hat trick. The team’s fourth line provided the spark in the Badgers’ triple-overtime triumph over Cornell in the regional final, and against Maine last night, it was third-line forward Ross Carlson who shone.

3. The kids are alright
As good as Collins was yesterday, the Eagles don’t advance without the contributions of forwards Gerbe, Benn Ferriero and Brock Bradford and the terrific defensive trio of Brett Motherwell, Tim Filangieri and Anthony Aiello, who ratcheted up their play when senior Peter Harrold was dinged in the first period

3. They’ve been the best team all year
Even with the slight hiccup that occurred when Elliott was sidelined with a leg injury, the Badgers have been the nation’s most consistent team from wire to wire.
4. Because BU can’t
The hated Terriers won the Beanpot, the Hockey East regular season title and the league’s playoff championship. What better way to upstage their rivals than by winning a national championship?
4. Destiny
Much like Minnesota’s win in front of a partisan Gopher contingent in the 2002 title game in St. Paul, there’s a feeling in the air that the Badgers will snap their 16-year championship drought in their backyard Saturday. Maybe it’s because the road to the final has been a feel-good tour of the state that started in Madison, passed through Green Bay and ends in Milwaukee, or maybe it’s due to the Badger women winning their first NCAA hockey crown two weeks ago. Whatever the reason, it just seems like a Wisconsin victory would put a nice, tidy bow on the season.