Missing the Last Knockout

In its run to the national championship, Wisconsin hockey predicated itself on its depth, being opportunistic and winning all the must-win games. How ironic that UW's final game of the season was the complete opposite of what had carries the Badgers back to national prominence.

DETROIT – There were many stellar moments to pinpoint why Wisconsin got back to its first Frozen Four since 2006.

One of the factors is depth, as the Badgers have nine players that have scored at least eight goals in what has been a dominant offensive season.

Another reason could be the defense core that has five defenseman drafted in the first two rounds of the NHL early entry draft and is led by junior Brendan Smith - the foremost offensive blueliner in the nation who will be shortly playing down the street from Ford Field at Joe Louis Arena for the Detroit Red Wings.

But there was a main reason that Wisconsin battled Boston College for the second time in five years with a national championship hanging in the balance. For only the second time in program history, dating back to 1921, the Badgers went through an entire season without losing back-to-back games.

The first squad UW Coach Mike Eaves knows well, as the now head coach was a junior captain on the 1976-77 team, considered one of the greatest Wisconsin teams of all time that won the WCHA title and the NCAA championship with a 37-7-1 season.

With the Badgers one win away from a national championship, it was no surprise that the seven-laden Wisconsin squad has prevailed in every must-win moment the 2009-10 season has thrown at them, especially in the post season.

Maybe that's why it was so disappointing that the Badgers could not follow up their 8-1 dominance over Rochester Institute of Technology in the national semifinal with an equally impressive performance in the national final.

Making its 10th title-game appearance, Wisconsin was smoked in every facet of the game against Boston College Saturday night, dropping a 5-0 clunker Saturday night that left a sour taste that won't soon be cleansed from UW's pallet.

"We just couldn't put the puck in the net pretty much," senior Michael Davies said. "It came down to them taking to advantage of all their opportunities."

One week after dealing with one no-tomorrow moment, rallying from an early deficit to oust Vermont 3-2 in the regional semifinals and gain sweet revenge with a 5-3 dismantling of St. Cloud State to advance to its first Frozen Four since winning it all in 2006, Wisconsin handled another beautifully against RIT.

The Badgers began this habit of rising to the occasion during the regular season when they rebounded against four NCAA tournament qualifiers.

They lost regular-season series openers against St. Cloud State Nov. 20 and Jan. 19 and a post-season match-up in the WCHA Final Five, only to return the second night or the next meeting in dominating fashion. In the case of the final St. Cloud State loss, the Badgers rebounded with a 6-3 throttling of top-ranked Denver in the consolation game that clinched a No. 1 seed in the NCAA field.

They rallied to win a pair of 4-3 victories third-ranked North Dakota Dec. 12 and over top-ranked Denver Jan.13, that followed up an overtime draw, victories that was the start of Scott Gudmandson's reign as starting goaltender and the other breaking a seven-game regular-season losing streak to the Pioneers at the Kohl Center, respectively.

With 55,031 fans on hand for the inaugural Camp Randall Hockey Classic outdoor game at Camp Randall Stadium Feb. 6, Brendan Smith scored twice in the final 6 minutes to topple 19th-ranked Michigan 3-2.

"One thing about this year is that we accomplished everything we wanted to except winning this game," Davies said. "We won our tournament, won the outdoor game, got to the Frozen Four and worked hard all four years."

In three NCAA Tournament games, it's no stretch of the imagination that Wisconsin has gotten stronger and more cohesive. UW struggled against Vermont, but scored three power-play goals to overcome an early deficit to advance to the regional final, where UW answered three St. Cloud State goals with three responses in no more than 2 minutes, 38 seconds of game time. Against RIT, it was UW's best performance yet, jumping out quick and never relenting.

It was just the opposite against the Eagles. Boston College blocked 17 shots, used its speed to get behind the UW defense for transition goals and held the Badgers - ranked second nationally with an average of 37.9 entering the game - to a season-low 20 shots on goal, only six being labeled as high grade chances.

"It was there night," Smith said. "Two teams can't win and they were the better team tonight."

Don't call it one defining moment that the Badgers skated for a national title, call it consistency. Wisconsin boasted seven players with more than 10 goals and two 20-goal scorers, including this year's Hobey Baker winner, Blake Geoffrion (who had 28), and the Badgers roster had four players with 50 total points.

The only thing you can call it is a bad night. Geoffrion had seven goals and 13 assists in six postseason games this year, including two game-winning goals and three power-play markers, but was held scoreless one night after being crowed college hockey's player of the year.

Davies scored his 20th goal on Thursday, but missed three grade a chances and fanned on a breakaway in the second after the puck's fluky bounce, a potential game-changing scenario lost.

Insult to injury was top scorer Derek Stepan, who had two goals and two assists against RIT, having to be helped off the ice after suffering a probable concussion after BC extended its lead to 3-0.

"You take a 50-point guy out of your lineup [when] you try to bounce back being down," said Eaves, "it takes a little bit of your zip away."

UW has fulfilled its well-documented plan to get to the Frozen Four. Its seven seniors and three captains were either onboard for the title in '06 or were brought in the following year.

Just like missing the ‘09 tournament by .0002 was a motivator for the group entering this year, just missing the gold could be he motivator for a young group of returning players.

"We had a great journey, a great run with these guys," Geoffrion said. "Obviously, right now we're pretty disappointed in our play today. They were the better team on the ice. But we'll go back and reflect on it in a couple of days and be proud of ourselves."

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