Looking back at Wisconsin’s 2006 national championship-winning team and comparing it to the Badgers’ squad that will face off against Boston College Saturday, the most striking similarities between the two teams is depth that presents matchup problems for opponents who can’t roll out four competitive lines.
Stylistically, however, that’s where the resemblance stops. While the 2006 team was known for airtight defense and stalwart goaltending from Brian Elliott, the 2010 team has built its reputation as an offensive juggernaut built on a dynamic attack involving all five skaters on the ice.
The stark contrast in styles comes from an adjustment by coach Mike Eaves, who is focused on taking advantage of a roster chock-full of excellent skaters that have a knack of finding the right place at the right time on ice. Seeing that offensive talent combined with players ready to help out defensively, Eaves has become less risk averse when it come taking chances of the offensive end.
“Absolutely, you have to play to the strength of your players,” Eaves said. “We can play offensive hockey and have good balance because if a defenseman jumps up it’s the forward’s job to get back until that young man cycles out. We can play with balance and still have that offensive thrust, and that’s something we teach and, for the most part, the kids are pretty good about it.”
Senior Ben Street, the lone member of this year’s team who played on the 2006 championship squad, can feel the difference on the ice and notes that Eaves readily trusts his players to make intelligent decisions, even if they come with some risk.
“You still have to be held accountable,” Street said. “You try and limit turnovers at the blue lines and obviously you don’t want to be making too many risky plays. But when you have the opportunity to make a play, take what’s given and try to make something happen - you’ve got the green light to do that.”
Street noted that the Badgers need to be even more dedicated to taking calculated and well-covered chances against a Boston College team that showed it will take advantage of the slightest mistake on defense. While it will surely be challenging, Street has confidence that his teammates will be up to the task because of their commitment to playing creative and dynamic hockey without compromising their defensive integrity.
“There are guys here that could be in the NHL probably right now,” Street said. “But they don’t even talk about it, they want to win a championship. All the guys are humble and we’re all playing for the same team. It’s not like a first-round guy wouldn’t go through the wall for a guy who’s undrafted or vice versa.”
- James V. Dowd
EAGLES FLY, BUT NOT LIKE THIS
It’s not every day the Air Force schedules a flyover for a Frozen Four practice. Well, at least that’s what the Boston College Eagles can tell their grandkids in a few decades.
While BC was on the ice for its hour-long practice, the building shook prior to a thunderous boom a few minutes before 1 p.m. Everyone briefly paused, looked up to make sure the sky hadn’t fallen, and quickly realized it was Opening Day for the Detroit Tigers, who play just across the street.
“Earlier, someone hinted to the Opening Day, so we had a sense of what it was,” senior forward Matt Price said. “Otherwise, guys might have been a little nervous out there.”
“That was loud,” senior forward Matt Lombardi said. “The whole building kind of rumbled.”
- Jeff Howe
SEEN AND HEARD AT FORD FIELD
• Here’s your Boston College-Wisconsin-Frozen-Four-in-Detroit history lesson. The last time the Frozen visited the Motor City was 1990. The Badgers, as you probably know by now, won it all at Joe Louis Arena, routing Colgate in the title match, but advanced to the final by beating Boston College in the semis.
Wisconsin also won the 1977 championship here, toppling Michigan in overtime at the old Olympia Stadium. That team featured, among others, current Badger head coach Mike Eaves; Mark Johnson, the Wisconsin women’s hockey coach who piloted the U.S. at the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver earlier this year; Denver head coach George Gwozdecky; and Anaheim Ducks assistant general manager (and Friend of College Hockey) Dave McNab.
• This is the sixth time the Frozen Four has come to Detroit, and in four of the five previous visits a WCHA has skated away with the NCAA championship. In addition to Wisconsin’s titles in 1977 and 1990, North Dakota’s Hrkac Circus won in 1987 and Minnesota won in Herb Brooks’ last season behind the Gopher bench in 1979. The outlier was 1985, when Rensselaer beat Providence. Minnesota Duluth and Boston College were semifinalists that year.
• By the way, Detroit is the second city to have three unique venues host a Frozen Four. Boston is the other burg to attain that honor – the Hub of Hockey has opened its arms and byzantine traffic patterns for Frozen Fours at Mathews Arena (1960), the Boston Garden (1972-74), and Garden Version 2.0 (1998 and 2004).
• The leading scorers in last year’s NCAA Tournament were Bemidji State’s Tyler Schofield and Boston University’s Chris Higgins, each of whom had seven points. Wisconsin’s Brendan Smith almost racked up that many assists in the last two periods of Thursday’s win against RIT. All kidding aside, Smith is one of four players atop the current leaderboard with seven points – teammate Blake Geoffrion, Boston College’s Joe Whitney, and Yale’s Mark Arcobello are the others.
• In three NCAA Tournament games, Wisconsin has scored six power-play goals in 20 man-advantage opportunities. That’s a 30 percent clip.
• Even though televised college hockey games has exploded exponentially over the last decade with the advent of regional sports channels and outlets featuring only college sports and the growth of DirecTV, Dish Network, and digital cable, some players can’t get enough of themselves on the tube. Case in point: when an ESPN2 feature on Wisconsin’s post-season moustaches popped up on the TV in the locker room after the team’s practice, the Badgers crowded around the set.
• The local radio airwaves weren’t abuzz with college hockey talk, but a couple callers to Detroit’s 97.1 FM “The Ticket” Friday morning did bring up the Frozen Four. More specifically, the listeners registered complaints about the seating arrangements at Ford Field, noting the lack of pitch on the temporary risers on each side of the rink and the inability of fans seated behind the team benches to see through the coaches and players.
• Adding to the excitement in Detroit today is the fact that the Detroit Tigers host the Cleveland Indians in their home opener. Ford Field and Comerica Park, the Tigers’ home, are adjacent to one another; in fact, the Ford Field media workroom is about 100 yards from Comerica’s left-field gate.
An INCH staffer noted that the media workroom perch is closer to seats at Comerica than at Ford Field. And judging from today’s brisk 37-degree temperature at first pitch, low clouds, and gusty winds, the ice at Comerica is probably better, too.
- Mike Eidelbes