In UW's 5-2 win over Maine in a Frozen Four semifinal at the Bradley Center here Thursday night, Carlson's performance was as loud as can be. The junior played like a man possessed, flustering Black Bear skaters all over the ice.
"He's been playing with tremendous energy and confidence," Badger head coach Mike Eaves said. "When Rosco plays with the energy he has he's giving (his teammates) confidence, he's stomping on pucks.
"He's not the biggest guy, but he's winning battles for the puck in his own way. His own scrappy way. To me he has been a key ingredient in the second half of our year for us."
Carlson always seems to do the little things on the ice that help a team win. Thursday he did some very big things as well. His short-handed goal 4 minutes, 18 seconds into the second period broke a 1-1 tie and squelched Maine's momentum, while re-energizing the partisan crowd and UW's bench.
"That's the type of player he is," freshman center Ben Street said. "He's energy-full and even in the (locker) room too. He just creates energy… He's been so instrumental so far in this whole season."
Carlson's goal was the product of a tremendous individual effort. He forced a turnover, chipped the puck ahead to himself, skated it into the offensive zone and stopped abruptly at the top of the circle, hop-stepping to avoid defenseman Bret Tyler. Left one-on-one with goalie Ben Bishop, Carlson buried the puck.
"In practice I just worked on my pulling up and then shooting but it wasn't a pull-up," Carlson said. "It was a pull-up and then a flip-up and then a knockdown and then a shot. So I don't know what the heck was going on."
"His short-handed goal just sums up the type of player he is," Street said. "He mucks it up on the boards and he battles the puck out there. He makes the finesse play to beat the guy to the open look and then he just slams it into the net."
In the third period, Carlson's work around the net led to an assist to Street. The freshman center fired a shot from the circle to the left of Bishop, forcing him to make a big skate save. Carlson fought to get to the rebound but he could not quite get a good stick on it. He did, however, leave the puck on a platter for Street, who found it to Bishop's right and, after an initial whiff, deposited it in the back of the net with a backhand.
"The assist. I don't know, I was just spinning like a little top, and then accidentally hit the puck, and got it," Carlson said. "So it worked out."
"For you folks that don't know Ross Carlson," Eaves said, "he makes his best plays when he's spinning like a top, when he's laying on his back, or he's on his knees."
Street's tally gave UW a 4-2 edge, less than a minute after the Black Bears had closed within one.
"Those were just kind of backbreakers," Street said of his and Carlson's goals. "(For the Black Bears) to keep their morale up during that is real tough to do."
In addition to his contributions to the scoreboard, Carlson was his normal feisty self, digging pucks out along the boards and just being an irritant for Maine in every aspect of the game.
"He was an effective player today," Eaves said
Carlson appeared to get under the Black Bears' skin early in the game and his intensity—and that of linemates Street and freshman winger Jack Skille—often dictated the action on the ice.
"He's a tough player to play against, even in practice," Street said. "He's relentless on the puck. He hates to give it up. That's his puck and he even tells us: ‘Dump it in my corner, they're not going to get it from me.' That's real hard to play against. It's real frustrating too. I think that kind of got to them a bit because he was having so much success today."
Nowhere was Carlson's impact more apparent than on the penalty kill. Remarkably, Carlson did not earn a spot on the short-handed unit until after Christmas. Now, he is one of UW's top penalty killers. His forecheck Thursday often made it look like the Badgers had the upper hand on Maine's man-advantage chances. The Black Bears went into the game with the nation's third-best power play. They were 0-for-7 Thursday.
"As the second half of the year has come along we have given Carlson more responsibility," Eaves said.
Now, Carlson has helped lead the Badgers to the national championship game.
"It is a great feeling," Carlson said.