One More Hurdle
by Gregg Paul/CHN Correspondent
MILWAUKEE Wisconsin moved one step closer to the National Championship with a relentless 5-2 win, spurred on by a partisan crowd in its home state.
"Well, we got a chance to win the last game of the year and that's something we've talked about since the beginning of the year", explained Badger coach Mike Eaves.
That certainly is a goal for every team at the beginning of each season, but it means even more when you have the chance to do it in your home state before a majority of your own fans.
The Badgers' road to the Championship game wasn't always a certainty, despite the perceived notion that the road was made easier by playing both the regional and Frozen Four in your back yard.
Early on the game was the typical playoff-style chess match. The teams traded goals in the first period, and Maine showed that Badger goaltender Brian Elliott was human after all.
Even when Maine finally got one past Elliott, though, it had to be on a deflection off Badger defenseman Matt Olinger's skate.
Still, Wisconsin found out that the big home crowd wasn't going to make it a cakewalk.
"We came out with good emotion, then we backed off," Eaves said. "We were skating by pucks, skating by people. I said (that) we have to get back to competing, because they (Maine) were."
Going into the second period, the game seemed to be played at an even pace. That changed when Maine went on the power play, thanks to a Tom Gilbert roughing penalty.
This was Maine's opportunity to take control of the game, however it was a superb effort from the Badgers' Ross Carlson that completely changed the momentum. Carlson chipped the puck out of his own end and hustled to chase it down through the neutral zone. Carlson's path to the net was seemingly cut off by a Maine defenseman. Carlson then hurtled over him moving towards the slot and found himself all alone in front of the ominous 6-foot-7 freshman goalie from Maine, Ben Bishop. Carlson made one deke and slipped the puck through the giant's legs to give the Badgers a lead they didn't relinquish.
"I got lucky that the puck bounced to me," said Carlson. "It got behind their defenseman and I just started skating. I knew I was going to cut to the middle but I didn't know when or how, and the guy went flying and I just flipped the puck up and knocked it down and shot it."
It was a nifty play, and one that many other players wouldn't make. But Eaves knew his guy was in good position, because he knows Carlson.
"(Carlson) makes his best plays spinning like a top, falling down, on his knees," Eaves said. "I like to see him in that position, because those are his best moments."
The Badgers extended their lead to 3-1 on a power-play goal by Robbie Earl, catching Maine on a bad line change. Having a two-goal lead with a defense that doesn't allow many scoring chances and a goalie who refuses to give up a goal if he can help it, the game almost seemed out of reach.
Someone forgot to explain that to Maine, as it was able to get back in the game when they scored midway through the third period. But Wisconsin was relentless, and came right back with the backbreaker.
"They had a really good forecheck on us and kept coming at us," Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. "Even when we did rim a puck, the 'D' jumped up and kept it in.
"We left it out on the ice. I'm very proud of our team. It's a tough way to finish obviously, but we left it all out there."
Eaves is trying to bring Wisconsin its first title since 1990, under Jeff Sauer. Eaves won one with Wisconsin as a player in 1977, under Bob Johnson.