Thursday afternoon, the Badgers' answer was loud and simple: their depth.
Cinderella RIT never saw a blitzkrieg quite like the all-on assault second-seed Wisconsin threw at them. Wisconsin got eight tallies from seven different sources and scored three of its four second period goals on the power plays on its way to an 8-1 throttling, whipping and thrashing of Rochester Institute of Technology in front of over 34,954 fans at Ford Field - the largest to see a hockey game indoors.
Registering the biggest Frozen Four semifinal landslide since Denver beat Harvard 9-2 on March 5, 1969, Wisconsin (28-10-4) will now have 48 hours to prepare for Boston College, a 7-1 winner over Miami (Ohio) in the second semifinal, to determine the 2010 National Champion.
The production was so deep and unexpectedly balanced that the Badgers have put themselves as the likely favorites to capture their program's seventh national championship, as the scoring came from the expected and the unexpected sources.
- Senior tri-captain Blake Geoffrion – who hopes to bring home another piece of hardware at Friday's Hobey banquet – registered a goal and an assist to give him 50 points for the season, and took over the nation lead with his 15th power play tally.
- Senior Michael Davies scored his 20th goal of the season in the easiest of fashions, being on the receiving end of a tic-tac-toe passing play that Geoffrion helped forge midway through the second.
- Junior Brendan Smith, who admitted to playing with a chip on his shoulder after not being included from the Hobey Hat Trick, staked his claim as the country's most valuable defenseman with five assists, giving UW four 50-point scorers for the first time since 1992-93.
- Sophomore Derek Stepan registered his first multi-goal game since Oct. 30 and added two assists to give him 42 helpers on the year.
"We've talked about all year how one of the strengths of our team is out depth, and guys stepped up," Geoffrion said.
The scoring came from the unexpected as well, as Wisconsin got goals from four players ranked outside the top eight in team scoring, offense that helped the Badgers carry a dominant 37-14 edge in shots, go 3-for-7 on the power play and hold RIT (28-12-1) to 1-for-4 with the man advantage.
"Clearly we were able to get everybody out there," said Eaves. "We had 12 people out of our 18 skaters get points, so it speaks to that depth."
On the off chance he was tested, junior goalie Scott Gudmandson stopped 13 of 14 shots, as he allowed two or fewer goals in eight of his last 10 games. In turn, the Badgers limited the Tigers' six-man defensive corps (the highest scoring in the nation at 3.15 points per game) to one points on just three shots.
"They had an answer for everything," said RIT Coach Wayne Wilson, who saw his team's 12-game win streak snapped. "They were just physicality, stronger and answered everything we tried to generate. In the second period, it seemed like we had no chance of getting anything going."
Anytime he sees his team sit for a week between games, Eaves frets about the first 20 minutes, a do-or-die situation that goes a long way in determining the end result for a team that went 18-2-1 during the regular season. Needless to say, Cinderella never saw it coming, as the Badgers' mission was quite clear from the opening draw and just as forceful.
Senior John Mitchell continued his post-season flurry, scoring his third goal in the last two games at 1:27 by burying a fortuitous bounce through the pads of RIT goalie Jared DeMichiel (27 saves) that lit the Wisconsin powder keg.
"We were just starting the game strong … and we were going to start strong," said Mitchell, who scored five goals in his first 38 games. "We were just going to follow the two first shifts ahead of us and just try and keep rolling all four lines, keep that depth of our team going because that's our strong point."
The strength in numbers got stronger as the clock ticked on. Wisconsin doubled the score at 9:38 off a face-off won by Geoffrion. Ryan McDonagh delivered a shot from above the left circle that Stepan nicked into the net.
"We just ran into a power house tonight," Wilson said. "It's one thing them scoring the first goal early, but for them to go up 2-0 was a real changing point in the game."
The next 20 minutes saw Wisconsin end any hopes for RIT to add to its magical playoff run, a journey that included becoming the first Atlantic Hockey school to reach the Frozen Four after ousting WCHA regular season champion Denver and Hockey East regular season champion New Hampshire.
Jordy Murray knocked in a rebound at 2:18 and Justin Schultz followed with a tap in from the right post that was confirmed after a lengthy video review at 4:26, widening the margin to 4-0, setting the stage for Davies' and Geoffrion's tallies to further take the wind out of boisterous RIT fan base.
When RIT's Tyler Brenner finally snuck a power-play tally by Gudmandson with 27.4 seconds left in the second, Wisconsin held a dominant 24-8 edge in shots and enjoyed a 6-1 lead on the scoreboard.
"Our power play got rolling in the second and once the snowball kind of got moving, it just kept building and building," Stepan said. "We started rolling over the bench with four lines, and that's when we were playing our best."
Now Wisconsin looks to add to a rich tradition in Hockeytown. Twice UW has come to a Frozen Four in Detroit, once in 1977 with Eaves as a captain and the other in 1990 with assistant coach Mark Osiecki a shot-blocking assistant captain, and flew home with the title.
On Saturday, the Badgers have the chance to paint the town red once again.
"It's a good win for us, and we got to continue to play hard and play smart," Stepan said. "We got to get ourselves ready and focused to play one more."