Thanks to the Wisconsin's first line, the Badgers are returning to Madison as national champions.
In what was one of the most exciting championship games in recent memory, Wisconsin's front line of senior captain Adam Burish, sophomore Joe Pavelski and junior Robbie Earl played a significant part of Wisconsin's offensive and defensive prowess Saturday night, registering one goal and two assists while being directly responsible for six of Boston College's eight penalties that led to Wisconsin power plays.
Not only did the front line show poise, but showed heart as well.
With Wisconsin down by one early in the second period, left winger Robbie Earl took a helmet to the knee. Visibly shaken, Earl slowly picked himself off the ice and made his way to the Wisconsin bench. At the same time in the Boston College zone, Pavelski forced an Eagles turnover and passed it off to Burish. Earl, seeing the play develop, made a B-line straight for the Eagles' net, calling for the puck. Burish found his linemate and Earl found the back of the net to tie the game.
"I just saw an opportunity and I took it," Earl said. "I'll deal with the bruises tomorrow."
The group also manufactured the game-winning goal on Wisconsin's sixth power play of the evening. On one of Wisconsin's many diagramed plays, three touch passes that went from Burish to Pavelski into the hands of senior Tom Gilbert, who rifled the puck from between the face-off circles that found its way past Boston College goalie Cory Schneider to give the Badgers the lead for good.
"The power play goal Wisconsin scored was very well executed," Boston College head coach Jerry York said. "Some tic-tac-toe passes and the defenseman [Tom Gilbert] that scored, the shot was a foot and a half off the ice on the short side, which is a very difficult place for the goaltender. The [first-line] executed very well tonight."
One of the goals that the main line sets amongst the three of them is to get as many shots on the opposing goalie as possible, to create traffic in front of the net and to make scoring chances for themselves and their teammates. Of the 39 shots Wisconsin threw at Schneider, the line of Burish, Earl and Pavelski accounted for 21 shots with Pavelski and Burish each getting two assists on the night.
"We had a great start again tonight and some of the moves my linemates do and the energy they bring us, we just feed off each other," Pavelski said. "To get both of the goals and be a part of that is just awesome."
"They have been carrying this team all year," senior winger Nick Licari said. "Twenty shots are pretty impressive. They have really gelled the last couple weeks and carried this team. Their skill level and their confidence are unreal and we wouldn't be nearly where we (are) at without them."
Although the stat won't show up in the box score and probably went unnoticed by the 17,758 hockey fans in attendance was the amount of chaos the Badger front line caused against the B.C. offensive and defensive lines. By battling for loose pucks, crisp passing and sheer speed, Boston College was forced to take penalties instead of giving up prime scoring chances to Wisconsin's front line. Boston College defenseman Anthony Aiello's hooking penalty in the third period set up Gilbert's game winner.
On the evening, Wisconsin's front line forced 12 minutes in Eagles' penalties.
"All year, we just try to do our jobs and that's cause commotion and cause offense," Earl said. "We did that to a ‘T' tonight and that's the story of the game right there."
"We gave them way too many power plays," B.C. defenseman Peter Harrold said. "They are an incredible team and they have a great power play and to give him that many, we are going to get burned sooner or later."
The work of the front line resulted in much-deserved recognition, as both Burish and Earl was named to the Frozen Four all-Tournament team. Soft-spoken Robbie Earl, who scored three goals and one assist in the two games in Milwaukee, was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Frozen Four.
"It's an amazing accomplishment," Earl said. "It's an individual award and I am a team guy. It's just a great feeling to be noticed and to win a championship."
With captain Adam Burish graduating, this Wisconsin front line will go down as one of the most productive in recent memory. Totaling 56 goals and 83 assists among the three of them this season, they not only made each other better, but the other lines better too.
"All the guys on this team looked up to them because they were the veterans," freshman Jack Skille said. "Even though we had more veterans on this team, they were the veteran line and they really contributed a lot to this team this year. When they are playing well, we are playing well."
And for Burish, it was a fitting end to a four-year career at Madison that stressed a blue-collar work ethic and a personality that will be unlikely matched in the future.
"Those two guys I play with are two of the most skilled players in the country," Burish said. "It's always a treat to play with those guys and they do magical things out there.
"It's been a long, fun road and I wouldn't change a thing."