As of this weekend did not have enough at stake for the Wisconsin men's hockey team, consider the fact that the Badgers have a legacy to carry on in the Motor City when they take on RIT in the national semifinals at Ford Field this Thursday.
Twice Wisconsin has advance to the city of Detroit for the Frozen Four, and twice the Badgers hockey program has carried home a national championship. How can it get more ironic? Head Coach Mike Eaves and assistant coach Mark Osiecki were each on one of those teams that were victorious 13 years apart.
"We talked about it for a little bit," Eaves said. "We shared some of those stories, which are just fun."
When makes the stories more entertaining for this Wisconsin (27-10-4) team is that both Eaves and Osiecki were both captains on teams that took two different roads to the title.
After winning the school's first title four years earlier, Wisconsin was on a mission to double its pleasure at the non defunct Olympia Stadium, winning the Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season and playoff title and going 22-1-1 the last 24 games, but the national semifinal and final games were far from easy.
According to Eaves (a tri-captain on that team), New Hampshire was having its defenseman take faceoffs, which tied up Wisconsin's usual potent advantage on the draw, a big reason the Wildcats forced overtime in the semifinals. Heading into overtime, Wisconsin countered with a defenseman, won the draw and a loose puck lay still in front of the net for Eaves.
"It just lay there," he recalled, "and I just pushed it at the net and it went in."
After that physical duel, one can imagine how tired Eaves and his teammates were the next night in the national finals. Deadlocked at five heading into overtime against a Michigan team UW had gone 5-1 against during the season, Eaves recalled how nobody had anything left – except one of his fellow captains.
"I remember how tired and sore my legs felt going into the overtime," Eaves said. I remember the indomitable will of Steve Alley. Basically after the third period, he wasn't going to let us lose. That was his demeanor in the locker room."
Twenty-three seconds into overtime, Alley delivered the tally, giving UW a second title and its 37th win, still a program record.
"It was poetic justice that he scored that goal," Eaves said.
While Eaves' two games were physically struggles, Osiecki said the 7-3 final over Colgate in the national final at Joe Louis Arena was as easy as the final score indicated.
"For us going in, losing was never an option," Osiecki said. "When we walked into any game, we thought we were going to win, no matter what the score was. If they scored six, we were scoring seven. That was always the mentality."
That mentality was forged over the previous two seasons when UW was knocked out in the NCAA quarterfinals in disheartening fashion. Returning seven core seniors (including Osiecki – an assistant captain), Wisconsin – just like Eaves' team - won the WCHA regular-season and playoff title and rolled through the post season by going 18-1-1 its final 20 games.
"We had a great group of character, and I say character because we had a lot of characters that had character," Osiecki said. "It was a really tight niche group, which is really similar to this group with how close they hang out and how badly they (want to win) for their teammate."
A team that finished 36-9-1 won the program's fifth national championship (second under Jeff Sauer) ended a seven-year title drought in the easiest of fashions.
Center John Byce scored two of his three goals in the first 3:23 of the game and the Badgers power play notched four goals in nine attempts against a Colgate team playing with three freshman defensemen and its first national championship game in any sport.
"We established what we wanted to do right from the get go," said Osiecki, "and never really backed off."
Combine the two championship squads from season's past and one gets a hybrid of the 2010 team. Winners of 14 of its last 18 games, Wisconsin has seven seniors motivated by missed post-season opportunities, captains that are willing to put the team on their back and eager to end the season for a small hockey program from the East Coast.
"It's an opportunity for something unique to happen," Eaves said of winning another championship in Detroit. "It's a story to talk about. It could be ironic, should things go the way we want."