Before the UW men's hockey team took on No. 1 North Dakota last weekend in what turned out to be the series of the season, forward Robbie Earl was just another freshman getting prepared for a big game.
"We knew it was going to be a rough battle," Earl said. "Coming into that we knew it was just going to be a grind. The motivation was to try (to) stay in it and to try and maybe split the series but after the first game we just had so much motivation."
But can just any first-year student put on the performance that Earl did last weekend? In the series sweep, he left the Sioux in the dust and proved that he is far beyond his years when it comes to the ice.
During Friday's 4-3 overtime victory, Earl not only scored his first collegiate hat trick, but was the first Badger to do so on the Kohl Center ice. After North Dakota went up 3-0 in the first, he put the Badgers on the board in the second period with his first goal off a backhand shot. Though there was only one minute left and the Badgers trailed 3-2, Earl stepped up again to knock in a rebound from the front of the net to tally his second goal and send the game into overtime. His final goal came when Wisconsin needed it the most. Earl single-handedly gave Wisconsin victory when he connected on his shot over North Dakota junior goalie Jake Brandt during the early stages of overtime.
While not much can top Earl's trio of goals, he made another positive contribution on Saturday with his one goal which put the Badgers up 3-1 after two periods. The Sioux were never able to catch up and fell 5-2.
Thanks to his show-stopping performance, Earl has earned much recognition within the past week. Besides his game-winning goal being showcased on ESPN's SportsCenter, he was also named the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's Rookie of the Week.
Though the weekend proved successful, Earl commented that he had to put himself into a different gear after a chat with UW head coach Mike Eaves.
"I think it started hopefully with the week before and our discussion about how he could be one of the best if he put it all together and worked as hard as (North Dakota sophomore forward) Zach Parise," Eaves said. "Zach was the hardest worker on the North Dakota team and if Robbie took his play to that next level he would have that same type of success. So the fact that it all came together hopefully will sit well with him."
After the four goals last weekend, Earl has 20 points this season off of 12 goals and eight assists. He is the third highest scorer on the team and is tied for third among all WCHA freshmen.
While his performance against North Dakota may have been one in a million, Eaves knows that there is more to come from Earl.
"We've all seen that potential within him," Eaves said. "He gets so close in so many nights in doing something like that. I think when he gets the puck, people get closer to the edge of their seat because they know something can happen. He has that ability and that potential."