April 3, 2006
NCAA Frozen Four

 

MAINE
vs.
WISCONSIN

Thurs., April 6 • 8 p.m. ET
ESPN2
Team Capsules | Semifinal 1 Preview

 

 
Overall
Conference
Home
Away
Neutral
Maine
28-11-2
17-8-2
16-4-1
9-5-1
3-2-0
Wisconsin
28-10-3
17-8-3
14-6-1
11-3-2
3-1-0
 
 
Goals/Gm.
GA/Gm.
PP Pct.
PK Pct.
PIM/Gm.
Maine
3.44 (9th)
2.03 (2nd)
.225 (3rd)
.891 (1st)
17.9 (35th)
Wisconsin
3.37 (13th)
1.85 (1st)
.184 (18th)
.879 (3rd)
17.0 (43rd)

Maine: East Regional third seed
Maine 6, Harvard 1
Maine 5, Michigan State 4

Wisconsin: Midwest Regional first seed
Wisconsin 4, Bemidji State 0
Wisconsin 1, Cornell 0

The similarities between the Badgers and the Black Bears up front are remarkable. Because of the top-to-bottom balance, both coaches will use four lines extensively, and both teams like to use their size and strength to win battles along the wall in order to keep possession in the other team's end. Wisconsin's top line of Robbie Earl, Joe Pavelski and Adam Burish is talented and works well together, though Earl has a tendency of trying to take on defenders one-on-one with varying results. The Badgers' second and third units are fairly similar in size and production. The fourth line of Nick Licari, Andy Brandt and A.J. Degenhardt was brilliant against Cornell in the Midwest Regional final, outworking and outhitting the bigger Big Red skaters. Maine's forwards are good with the puck, but might be even better without the puck. The Black Bears play hard in all three zones and keep constant pressure on the opponent by supporting the player that engages the attacking player. Wisconsin's defensemen will have to move the puck effectively to create transition opportunities.

Wisconsin's Tom Gilbert is a terrific two-way defenseman. He's got enough confidence to lead the rush and create scoring chances. For a guy who's 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, he's not overly physical but he uses his body well, especially his long reach. The rest of the Badgers' backline is steady, if unspectacular, which sounds a lot like Maine's defensive corps. It's hard to notice the Black Bear defensemen and that's a good thing. They won't make the big mistake, but also won't make spectacular plays at the offensive end. Their smart and steady play reflects this team's overall characteristic.

Maine fans appropriately call him Big Ben and freshman goaltender Ben Bishop is exactly that. At 6-foot-7 and 217 pounds shooters don't see much of the net when he's on his angle. Wisconsin's Brian Elliott hasn't allowed a goal in more than 240 minutes. His technique is as sound as any goalie in the nation – he moves efficiently, squares to the shooter and has an uncanny knack for sensing where the shot is coming from even if he can't see it. Just ask Cornell's Matt Moulson.

With two teams as evenly matched as Maine and Wisconsin, special teams play will likely determine which advances to Saturday's championship game. The Black Bears own the country's best penalty-killing unit, while the Badgers rank third in the nation in that category. If there is an advantage to be had, it's Maine's power play which boasts a 22.5% success rate. Wisconsin was quite effective in disrupting the power play of its foes at the regional, sending a forward in deep to harass the defensemen on the forecheck and cause neutral-zone turnovers. If the other team was able to get the puck into the offensive end, the Badgers' forwards would pressure the points vigorously.

With both Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves and Maine's Tim Whitehead, what you see is what you get. Whitehead has been to the Frozen Four twice before, advancing to the championship game on both occasions. He comes off as a calm, laid-back coach, and facing the Badgers in a pseudo-home environment is nothing new – his Black Bears lost to Minnesota in the 2002 title game in St. Paul and beat Boston College in a semifinal match at the then-Fleet Center in 2004. Eaves is a more fiery personality, and some believe that translates to his teams playing tight in big games. That said, the Badgers appeared to be pretty relaxed in both of their regional games in Green Bay.

WHY MAINE WINS: Nerves always play a part when you compete on this type of stage, but Maine will be the looser team on Thursday night as the Badgers are the top overall seed in the tournament and will be playing in front of a pro-Wisconsin crowd. The pressure will be on the Badgers and if jitters turn into turnovers, the Black Bears will turn them into goals.

WHY WISCONSIN WINS: In recent weeks, it's been because Elliott hasn't allowed any goals. It's not realistic to think that he can turn in another shutout, however. The Badgers are at their best when they get the lead first and they'd be well advised to stay out of the penalty box and keep the Maine power play off the ice. If Wisconsin can find a way to get what will likely be a sea of red at Bradley Center behind them early, the Black Bears will be hard pressed to escape with a win.