For the Old Guys

Missing out on a chance for glory one year ago, Wisconsin hockey's seven seniors came back focused and motivated to get back to the national tournament. With the amount of work they've put in, the freshmen contributors want nothing more than to send them out with a title.

ST. PAUL, Minn. - When it comes to winning college championships, the only player on Wisconsin's current roster that can speak adequately or passionately about it is senior tri-captain Ben Street.

A freshman winger on the 2006 team that won the school's sixth national championship in Milwaukee – a 3-2 decision over Boston College – Street is here by an odd twist of fate. He tore his ACL four games into last season, qualifying for a medical redshirt that gave him the opportunity to return to a team that was boiling over with veterans and an early favorite to make it to Detroit and the Frozen Four.

This year was just like Street's first season, with Wisconsin having five dynamic seniors that were instrumental in turning a program around that went 16-19-4 its first year to national championship favorites entering the tournament.

"We wanted to win badly as a team, seeing as we haven't won (a title) in six years," Street recalled, "but we really wanted to win for those seniors, seeing as they had carried the young guys to that point."

Freshman Craig Smith had a different viewpoint of that team. He sat at the 50-yard line for the outdoor game at Lambeau Field, and he remembered how strong and consistent the Badgers were on their run to the title.

When he sat back for a second and thought about it, that team reminded him of this year's edition, a big reason why he shared a similar view that Street did four seasons ago.

"For them pushing me as much as they do," Smith said, "for the young guys to give back to them, going the distance for them, we want to do it for them and do it together."

That journey for top seed Wisconsin begins 8 p.m. tonight when the Badgers (25-10-4) take on Vermont (17-14-7) in the first round of the West Regional at the Xcel Energy Center.

Take a straw poll of the three freshman contributors and the verdict is virtually the same – they came in with their head's spinning but followed the lead of an experience senior. There's plenty to choose from. Michael Davies' 50 points are tied for first in the league and his 1.35 points-per-game average leads the league; Blake Geoffrion leads all WCHA players with 25 goals; Ben Street has 29 points; Aaron Bendickson has a career-high 11 goals and 20 points this year and Andy Bohmbach has been versatile enough to play on all four lines.

"They are probably the reason we are as far as we are right now," said freshman defenseman Justin Schultz. "Coming into the league, you really don't know what to expect, but they help you along and make you a better player."

That was the case with Smith. Paired on the same line with Geoffrion and Bohmbach, it's no surprise that he was the fifth Badger this season to reach 30 points, and finished as the WCHA rookie scoring leader with 25 points in WCHA games.

"They helped me out at the beginning of the year by having them show me the ropes and give me pointers," Smith said. "Every good team has balance, and they helped create that."

It's hard to argue with Smith, seeing as the Badgers haven't lost back-to-back games all year and been ranked in the top four of the two major hockey polls since January, a statistic based off their 17-5-3 record since the start of December.

"It's been a process," Schultz said. "We've gotten better all year."

And now Wisconsin has a chance to advance to another Frozen Four and compete for a national championship for the ninth time. But instead of looking at the big picture, like a wide-eyed freshman wants to, the Badgers are focused first on Vermont, and then take each step from there.

You wouldn't expect anything else from a group of hungry seniors that knows what it takes to win.

"It's in the back of everyone's minds from the juniors to the freshman," Schultz said. "They've played here four years. That's what you play for, to win a championship. Going out of here, hopefully they can win one."

No.1 Wisconsin (25-10-4, 17-8-3 WCHA)) vs. No.4 Vermont (17-14-7, 9-11-7 Hockey East)

Date/Time - Friday and Saturday (if advance), March 25-26 at 8 p.m. CT

Arena – Xcel Energy Center - 200' x 85' (18,064)

Television - ESPNU

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Brian Posick and Mike Cerniglia)

Series – Wisconsin leads 2-1

Last Meeting - Vermont won the consolation game of the Badger Hockey Showdown, 5-2, at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee on Dec. 28, 1996

Series Notes

The teams first played on Oct. 18-19, 1974 to open the 1974–75 season. The Badgers swept the Catamounts, 6-5 and 6-1, in the series

Current UW head coach Mike Eaves scored four goals and one assist in the 6-1 victory in just his second game as a Badger, and had two assists in the series opener

Vermont reached last year's Frozen Four, falling to eventual NCAA champion Boston University in the semifinals

The Catamounts are 1-1-7 in overtime times and are 8-3 in one-goal games.

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