Men's hockey: UW wants to assert itself

Badgers are looking to dictate in first-round matchup with Bemidji State

ASHWAUBENON, Wis. — In the NCAA tournament, No. 1 seeds are supposed to have an easy time advancing to the second round. Just as the No. 16 seeds gave some top teams a little more than they wanted in the basketball tournament, however, it will not be a cinch for the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team, when it begins its quest for a national title Saturday.

True, the NCAA Tournament is setting up as well as the Badgers could have hoped when the season started. They are the No. 1 seed overall and the top seed in the Midwest Regional here.

Perhaps the only exception is that the Badgers' reward for receiving that top seed is a date with Bemidji State to begin the weekend.

Yes, the Beavers are the 16th seed and are coming from College Hockey America — not generally recognized as one of college hockey's premier leagues. But the Badgers cannot overlook BSU.

Just ask Denver.

A year ago the Pioneers, before eventually going on to win the NCAA title for the second year in a row, had the first-round matchup with the Beavers. Denver needed overtime to win 4-3.

"They're not so different from us in many ways," UW head coach Mike Eaves said. "They give themselves a chance to … be successful by playing hard. They're going to come out and play hard, get pucks and bodies at the net, play at a high tempo and both teams are going to go out there and try to dictate."

Much of the talk after Friday's practice at the Resch Center surrounded what the Badgers have learned after playing in this tournament the past two seasons. And most of the talk was about dictating the game, early and often.

A year ago, a young Wisconsin squad went into its first-round matchup with Michigan timidly. The result was a fairly easy victory for the Wolverines, who dictated from start to finish.

What a difference that game and one more year of experience can make. This time around, the Badgers are eagerly anticipating face off against the Beavers.

"I wish it was yesterday," UW captain Adam Burish said when asked if he wished the game was today. "This is what you're playing for all year. Now it's here and it's going to be tough to sleep tonight."

The veteran Badgers will look to do to Bemidji State exactly what the Wolverines did to them a year ago.

"After going through that, hopefully we can apply that lesson [of dictating] and we should be successful," Burish said. "Dictating the pace and dictating how we want the game to go, that was the biggest lesson. We're coming into this weekend confident unlike our last couple years."

Success breeds confidence, and after surviving a rough stretch of play in January and February, the Badgers have their confidence back, especially after a 4-0 win over Minnesota last weekend. They are 10-3-1 against teams in the NCAA tournament.

However, Eaves and his team will rely on video and scouting reports for this weekend. It will be the first matchup in history between Wisconsin and Bemidji State, another reason the Badgers are worrying about their play and dictating the game.

"We know that they're a fast team, and they are going to come hard," assistant captain Tom Gilbert said. "We've got to expect them to come hard at us, and we've just got to do the things that we do well."

One thing the Beavers do not bring with them is size. They have just three players standing 6-foot-3 or taller, and freshman forward Tyler Scofield clocks in at just 5-8, 150 pounds.

What Bemidji does have is depth — only one player, Luke Erickson, has more than 30 points (35), but 10 players have at least 20— and rock-solid goaltending. The tandem of Layne Sedevie and Matt Climie combine to allow 2.56 goals per game.

Sedevie, who is 12-6-1 on the season, will get the nod Saturday afternoon. He boasts a 2.37 GAA and .919 save percentage, creating what should be a battle between netminders.

UW's Brian Elliott has clearly shown he is back to early-season form. He has three shutouts in as many weekends and remains on pace to put up the best season ever by a Wisconsin goalie as far as statistics are concerned.

However the matchup plays out, the time is now and the stage is set. The puck drops at 1:30 Saturday afternoon.

What: Bemidji State (20-13-3 overall, 12-7-1 CHA) vs. Wisconsin (26-10-3, 17-8-3)
When: Saturday March 25, 1:30 p.m.
Site: Resch Center, Ashwaubenon, Wis.
Broadcasts: The game will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Net and on the radio on WIBA-AM 1310.
Series notes: This is the first-ever meeting between the Badgers and the Beavers.

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