Midwest Regional | Final
on the Line Chart, Number One in Your Hearts
Among the unsung heroes in Sunday's marathon
were the Badger fourth-liners
1, Cornell 0
David McKee, 111:13, 59 saves, 1GA
Brian Elliott, 111:13, 40 saves, 0 GA
COR 7-14; WIS 3/6
Plays: COR 0-1; WIS 0-5
Brian Elliott, Wisconsin (MVP)
D: Tom Gilbert, Wisconsin
Jon Gleed, Cornell
Matt Moulson, Cornell
F: Joe Pavelski, Wisconsin
F: Jack Skille, Wisconsin
GREEN BAY, Wis. – How well did Wisconsin's
fourth line play against Cornell in Sunday's Midwest Regional
Consider this – with 57 seconds left
in the third period of a scoreless game and a faceoff to
Big Red goaltender David McKee's left on the heels of a
Badger power play in which they peppered the Cornell net,
coach Mike Eaves summoned the trio of seniors Nick Licari
and A.J. Degenhardt and junior Andy Brandt to take the draw.
As if to confirm Eaves' confidence in them, Licari nearly
scored off the faceoff.
"They were without a question our best
line," Wisconsin captain Adam Burish said. "They
brought energy when we needed it."
On its first shift of the first period, the
unit jump-started the partisan Badger crowd by outworking
and outhitting the Cornell top line of Matt Moulson, Byron
Bitz and Mitch Carefoot. Mind you that the Big Red group's
average size is 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds, while the Brandt,
Licari and Degenhardt average 5-foot-10 and 184 pounds.
Near the end of that period, Degenhardt threw
his body at Cornell defenseman Jon Gleed as he tried to
lug the puck to neutral ice. Instead of maintaining possession,
Gleed gave up the puck and tried to flatten Degenhardt.
Brandt picked up the turnover and fed Licari, stationed
inside the right faceoff circle, for a prime scoring chance
that Big Red goalie David McKee stopped. In the second period,
Licari responsible for two thundering hits behind the Cornell
net – first pancaking Gleed, then steamrollling 6-foot-5,
225-pound defenseman Ryan O'Byrne, the biggest player on
the Big Red roster.
"It's our role on the team," Licari
said. "It's hard for us after so many shifts and so
many periods, but it's something we need to do to keep our
team going. If that's what it takes, that's what we've got
|Wisconsin celebrates in front
of rowdy Badger fans and a dejected Cornell bench. (Photo
by Larry Radloff; click for a larger image)
The fourth line did more than provide just
instantaneous sparks for the Badgers. Their play allowed
coach Mike Eaves to roll all of his forward units with regularity
from the opening draw until freshman Jack Skille scored
11:13 into the third overtime to end the fifth-longest contest
in college hockey history and the second-longest NCAA tournament
"We were itching to get back out there,"
Licari said. "Being on the fourth line, you obvioulsy
don't get as much ice time as the first line. You want to
do what you can."
At the post-game press conference, Burish
noted that Licari shed tears of joy following the win.
"This is most likely my last hockey,"
Licari explained. "To win and go through basically
two games that we played tonight is something special."
DAVE SAVES, EARNS RAVES
Despite a season's worth of objections from
the Cornell camp, it's been abundantly clear that goaltender
David McKee has struggled to match the performance he put
together last year, when he was one of three finalists for
the 2005 Hobey Baker Award.
That said, the junior from Irving, Texas,
put together the most impressive performance of his Big
Red career against Wisconsin Sunday. Constantly harrassed
by the Badgers' swarming forwards, McKee made 59 saves.
He was particularly impressive during a Wisconsin power
play late in the third period during which he made a number
of point-blank stops against the team's top unit of Burish,
Robbie Earl and Joe Pavelski.
"He made some unbelievable saves,"
said McKee's counterpart, Badger netminder Brian Elliott.
"I don't think he can be upset about how he performed."
What made McKee's effort even more notable
was his play as the game progressed. While everyone else
on the ice appeared to tire, McKee seemed to get stronger.
"It's going to take something like that,
a broken play and a one-timer, to beat him," said Cornell
coach Mike Schafer. "He's an excellent goaltender."
It may take a while for McKee to truly appreciate
the magnitude of his play. When asked after the game if
he could take any solace in his play, he quickly shot down
any notion of a moral victory.
"We really wanted to move on and go to
the Frozen Four," he said. "We're pretty bitter."
INCH's Three Stars of the Weekend
Tom Gilbert, Wisconsin
the point on the power play, thwarting opponents'
man-advantage opportunities by patrolling the slot
and using his long reach to poke pucks out of harm's
way or flattening foes with a big hit, Gilbert cemented
his status as one of the country's best defensemen.
David McKee, Cornell
He allowed two goals in the first period
of the Big Red first-round contest against Colorado
College and was virtually perfect the rest of the
Joe Pavelski, Wisconsin
It's hard to omit Brian Elliott from this
list because he made a number of tough saves in the
two games in Green Bay, but Pavelski and really set
the tone for the weekend with his penalty killing
and offensive prowess against Bemidji State, and his
physical play and excellent work on faceoffs. His
game is not unlike that of former Michigan State star
and current NHLer Rod Brind'Amour.
SEEN AND HEARD AT THE RESCH CENTER
• Wisconsin forward Robbie Earl was
plagued by leg cramps in the third overtime of Sunday's
game, but kept on taking regular – though drastically
abbreviated – shifts. At one point, Earl was so tight
that his teammates had to lift him onto the bench. A couple
Badgers helped him skate onto the ice for the post-game
celebration, evoking memories of an exhausted Kellen Winslow
being dragged off the field after his San Diego Chargers
beat Miami in an epic double-overtime AFC playoff game 25
"At one point," said Earl, who kept
his shifts to 30 seconds or less in the third OT, "I
just stood in front of the net because I couldn't move.
It was a total lock of my leg."
• Remember in late February, when people
were wondering whether Elliott had lost his edge after missing
a month with a leg injury and looking downright miserable
in two losses at Minnesota State Mankato? Don't look now,
but Elliott – the greatest Wisconsin goalie from Newmarket,
Ontario, since Curtis Joseph – has posted three straight
shutouts, the first Badger backstop to accomplish that feat.
He'll enter the Frozen Four with a shutout streak of 241:36.
Elliott was quick to credit his teammates for their role
in the run, as he should. Wisconsin's shot-blocking and
ability to quickly clear rebounds and limit opponents to
one chance played a huge part in the win over Cornell.
"'Organ donor'...'Organ donating' is
what we call it in the locker room," Elliott said,
struggling to spit out the term 'organ donation'.
"Well, I'm obviously not the one saying
it," Elliott added, drawing a roar from the media members
assembled for the post-game press conference.
|Adam Burish could bring the family
a second national title in two weeks. (Photo by Larry
• With Sunday's game
taking place in Green Bay, it's no surprise that the weekend's
loudest cheers were reserved for Wisconsin, the regional's
de facto home team. But one of the most enthusiastic ovations
came when public address announcer Mitch Lake relayed the
news that the Badgers defeated Minnesota to win the school's
first NCAA women's hockey title. Adam Burish's sister, Nikki,
is a member of the Badgers' women's team.
"Once coach got done addressing us, I
called my sister right away," said Burish. "My
dad said, 'You can't let your sister win a national championship
and not win one yourself.'"
• One of the best sights of the entire
weekend was that of a young Badger fan, no more than 3-years
old, on the Resch Center concourse. Like most Wisconsin
supporters, he was wearing a red shirt and jeans, but what
set him apart was the pair of shiny black hockey gloves
he had on his hands.
• When two red-and-white clad institutions
face each other, picking out fans wearing other sweaters becomes
easy. Among the notables spotted at the Resch Center Sunday
were a pair of Original Six no. 7's – a Blackhawks Chris
Chelios jersey and a Red Wings Ted Lindsay sweater. Hats off,
too, to the individuals wearing jerseys representing the Minnesota
North Stars, the Ontario Hockey League's Ottawa 67's and the
Fort Wayne Komets, a former member of the defunct IHL and
now part of the United Hockey League. The best sweater, however,
belonged to the fan seated behind the Badger penalty box who
was clad in a Michigan Tech jersey featuring the name and
number of former Husky and current Vancouver Canuck pest Jarkko
PLUSSES AND MINUSES
should come as no surprise to anyone who's been around college
hockey for any period of time, but Michigan Tech did a terrific
job of hosting the Midwest Regional. If there were any snafus
at the Resch Center, they were undetectable.
rest of the ECACHL will be pleased to learn that Wisconsin
fired the first salvo at the notoriously chirpy Cornell
fans midway through the first period when the Badger fans
seated near the Big Red students taunted them with a loud
"HAR-vard REE-jects!!!" CLAP-CLAP-clap-clap-clap
conditions at the Resch Center were less than perfect, to
put it nicely. Teams reported that the playing surface was
extremely chippy following Friday's practice, but was better
for yesterday's games – the Badgers' Adam Burish compared
it to outdoor ice. For the final, the sheet was soft and
looked more like a sno-cone as the game progressed, and
a number of guys lost their edges. Bouncing pucks were also
see...Cornell and Wisconsin have two of college hockey's
most energetic fan bases and best bands. So how did fans
in the Resch Center spend the first intermission? Why, sitting
in silence for 10 of the 15 minutes as they were treated
to a third helping of a video spotlighting this year's Hobey
Baker Award candidates and two NCAA public service announcements.
Do we complain about this every year? Yes. Will we ever
stop? Probably not, because the vibrancy and passion of
a college hockey crowd is one of the reasons coming to the
rink is so much fun.
Wisconsin will head down the road to Milwaukee
as a solid favorite entering the Frozen Four. The Badgers
earned that status in part because of proximity, but mostly
due to their overall strength – they are the only
No. 1 seed to advance to the semifinals.
Once there, they will meet another traditional
power in Maine that resembles the Badgers in many ways.
Both teams have had success thanks to winning battles for
the puck in all areas of the ice, timely goals from some
high-end snipers and outstanding goaltending.
Cornell, meanwhile, heads into the offseason
facing the graduation of captain Matt Moulson and, it seems
likely, the departure of goaltender Dave McKee to the pros.
On a team that isn’t built around star power, however,
you would expect that Mike Schafer would keep the Big Red
among the ECACHL’s elite even without those two.