Ready for the Third Season

Based on a solid finish in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, high RPI and challenging strength of schedule, Wisconsin hockey earned a number one seed in the West Region, opening its 24th NCAA Tournament on Friday in St. Paul.

MADISON - There was no sweating out the NCAA Selection Show this time around for the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team.

One year after missing out on the 16-team field by only .0002 points, No.3 Wisconsin earned the number three overall seed and the number one seed in the West Region and will play Vermont at 8 p.m. Friday on ESPNU in St. Paul at the Xcel Energy Center.

The winner of the Wisconsin-Vermont game will take on the winner of second-seeded St. Cloud State (23-13-5) and third-seeded Northern Michigan (20-12-8). The Huskies and Wildcats meet Friday at 4:30 p.m. CT.

The last time the Badgers earned a number one seed was in 2006 when Wisconsin on its sixth national title.

"I was real excited this morning," senior tri-captain Blake Geoffrion said. "I actually wound up too much and had to calm down. I was going a little crazy. It's definitely a different feeling."

Second-place finishers in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and earning third-place in the WCHA Final Five Tournament courtesy of their win over No.1 Denver, No.3 Wisconsin (25-10-4, 17-8-3 WCHA) has a number of reasons to look positively on its quest for its seventh national title.

- Wisconsin is the only team in the country that did not lose back-to-back games.

"That's a pretty strong indication that we have played some consistent hockey," Head Coach Mike Eaves said. "Have we slipped and fallen? Absolutely we have, but not to the level where it's become a pattern."

- Since beginning the second half of the WCHA season on January 15, the Badgers have recorded a record of 13-5-1.

- Wisconsin boasts the second-highest scoring team in the nation with a 3.97 goals per game, and its 155 goals scored are tops in the country.

- UW has four players over the 40-point mark (Davies - 50; Stepan - 48; B. Smith - 45; Geoffrion - 43). The last time four Badgers had at least 40 points was the 1993–94 season.

- Senior center and tri-captain Blake Geoffrion has a team-best 25, the most for the Badgers since Dany Heatley had 28 and Steve Reinprecht 26 in 1999-2000.

Needless to say, things look positive for a UW squad that has its most upperclassmen and most depth since winning the national title in 2006.

"The big picture is if we play our game, we'll be OK," said senior tri-captain Ben Street, a member of that 06 team. "Lately, we've been a little inconsistent, I am really not sure why, but we hit our stride against Denver. The key is to play like that. As long as we are playing our best hockey, it will give us our best chance to win."

As important as getting a number one seed was the fact that the Badgers will be going to a place extremely familiar to them. Having just played in the Xcel Energy Center last weekend in the WCHA Final Five and staying in the same hotel they have stayed in three of the past four weekends, the Badgers will be used to the boards, the glass, the ice and the atmosphere come face-off, not to mention a crowd in their favor.

"I am sure we'll get great crowds there for Wisconsin fans," Geoffrion said.

The Catamounts (17-14-7, 9-11-7 Hockey East) scored 111 goals on the season while giving up 109. Vermont is led by senior forward Brayden Irwin, who leads the team with 15 goals, 19 assists and 34 points.

Although the Badgers have faced Vermont only three times and not since 1996, Wisconsin will have a decent scouting report on its opponent, as the Catamounts have played common opponents Denver, Merrimack, Minnesota Duluth, New Hampshire and Yale with UW this season. Vermont is 5-6-2 against those team, Wisconsin is 6-1-2.

"Having not played them but seeing that, we can certainly look at video at get a feel of what they do and get a sense of what they do based on who we have played in common," Eaves said. "That's something we'll definitely look at."

The Pioneers (the No.2 overall seed and No.1 in the East Region), North Dakota (No.2 in the Northeast) and St. Cloud State (No.2 in the West) are the other WCHA teams in the field.

"With the way the way the teams were ranked throughout the course of the season, that's pretty much what we thought would happen," said Eaves, whose team is 7-4-3 against the tournament field. "We beat each other up all year, play each other that makes us stronger and our league deserves this many teams in the tournament."

The Badgers are 37-20-2 in 23 NCAA Tournament Appearances dating back to 1970 and have won six national titles, a number that ranks them fourth all time. The expectations are the same for Street as they were in 06, as long as the Badgers' can utilize their depth and get a little bit of luck, much like Boston College's shot off the right post in the final seconds that preserved the championship victory four years ago.

"We have depth, we have four lines that can score at any point in the game and if one line goes cold, we're not relying on them," Street said. "If you guy goes down, a guy jumps in and picks up the slack. We're not relying on one guy. It's similar to 06 and the expectation is to win. Everyone in our locker room thinks we can play with anyone, and our expectation is to take it real far."


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