Wisconsin entered the game with the edge in talent, and that talent made sure not to disappoint. The sophomore center led the way with a goal in each period.
"You've got guys that are going to play in the National Hockey League such as Robbie Earl and Joe Pavelski and Tom Gilbert and probably three or four others we don't know right now," Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said. "So their high end is very good. The bottom line is you win with your studs a lot."
Saturday marked the 10th time a player has collected a hat trick in a regional game. Six of the past seven have gone on to enjoy championship victory in the tournament, including Gabe Gauthier of last year's title-winning Denver Pioneers. So the leading scorer on the Badgers is in some pretty good company in his performance.
"It feels pretty good," Pavelski smiled. "I haven't had a hat trick in a while.
"It all starts with the faceoff."
Pavelski came out on the winning end of 15 of the 20 faceoffs he had against Bemidji State. The most memorable of those came in the second period when he took control of the puck in his opponent's zone and broke by a man to fake a shot on the right side of the net and get the goaltender down on the ice. Pavelski then moved to his backhand and scored his second goal around the right side of Layne Sedevie.
It was a move Pavelski has been working on, and when asked how we was able to effectively execute it, coach Mike Eaves quickly whispered into his microphone with a grin, "Don't tell him! Don't tell him!"
After conceding that it worked out well, Pavelski heeded the advice of Eaves and gave away little of his secret. "Good answer, good answer," his coach again softly spoke down the table from his sophomore star.
Pavelski's team-leading 15th multi-point game marked the first time he scored multiple goals since a December win at Minnesota. He also scored two of his goals on the power play, giving him a team-high 11 man-advantage tallies on the season. It was a dominating performance at the time of year when teams need their big-time players to make big-time plays. As a second-team All-WCHA selection this season, Pavelski certainly is one of those players.
"All good offensive players have the ability to take what's given," Eaves said. "They have to have the ability to take what's given and take advantage of that…make something out of nothing."
Making something out of nothing was certainly what Pavelski did on that unassisted goal off the faceoff. But it was his entire line that played strongly together in victory. Serratore admitted on Friday that his team probably did not have a clear-cut top-line, but instead boasted balance with multiple "second-lines." That claim was readily evident as the Pavelski-Adam Burish-Robbie Earl line set the tone in the game.
"They thrive off this kind of stuff," Burish said. "Pav has a couple of highlight reel goals. The kind of player he is, he thrives off these situations."
Dowell praised the entire line, which of course also features Earl, who did not collect a point Saturday, but ranks second on the team to Pavelski in goals with 21.
"When our top line is going, they're as good or better I think than anyone in the nation," Dowell said.
The top-line trio accounted for 19 shots – four better than the total of the entire Bemidji State team. That certainly is a welcome statistic for the Badgers, who certainly boast a more potent attack than they did in their last trip to the Elite Eight in 2004. Dowell said that the former Badger team had an "average offense", but he does not see any gaping flaws this time around. Get an effort like Pavelski's from any one of the talented Badgers on Sunday, and the team could be looking at its first Frozen Four since 1992.
As for Pavelski specifically, the Plover, Wis., native may have played his most complete game to date. Not only is he a scorer, but Eaves praised his body position and the way he plays well without the puck between skaters and the net. Eaves compared him to a small Swedish player who he called one of the best defensive players he has ever seen, despite being about 175 pounds.
Pavelski is 185 himself, but Serratore sees him as a 200-player. "He's going to get to 200 points if he lasts four years," the Beaver coached offered.
Who knows? On Saturday, Pavelski seemed content with just the three. As far as omens go, the streak of six of seven regional hat-trick gatherers ultimately hoisting the championship plaque all started back in 1992 when Paul Constantin of Lake Superior State did it against Minnesota.
Superior won in the national final over the Badgers that season. Now Pavelski and Wisconsin will look to make that run come full-circle.
Matt Lewis, a frequent contributor to Badger Nation, is the editor of creative sportswriting site TheHeptagon.com.