Gilbert Etches Place In History
by Gregg Paul/CHN Correspondent
MILWAUKEE With the game on the line this season, names like Joe Pavelski, Robbie Earl and Jack Skille were usually the ones who would rise to the occasion. But don't rule out those forwards-turned-defensemen, especially ones that are seniors.
When the puck crossed the goal line, midway through the third period on a power play, it came off the stick of senior defenseman Tom Gilbert. The Bloomington, Minnesota, native cruised down the slot and corralled a no-look pass from Joe Pavelski and ripped a shot low to the blocker side of Boston College goaltender Cory Schneider. And he put himself, and the Badgers, into the history books.
"It was something we were working on all week," said Gilbert. "It was either me or Robbie Earl backdoor. Joe Pavelski I think was looking at Robbie and gave me a no-look pass when he saw me open. I give a lot of credit to Joe because not a lot of guys can do that. When he saw me coming down the middle, there was actually a guy next to me and I think he bit on the look, took a look over at Robbie, so it got me wide open in the middle of the ice."
Gilbert sent the Badger faithful into a frenzy, yet there was still a lot of work to be finished. Gilbert's goal came with over half the third period remaining, and everyone knew that the goal may not stand up.
That may not have been the case if Gilbert buried an earlier one.
"(I had) a pass from Pavelski and then I had a pass from Jake Dowell," said Gilbert. "You know I was thinking to myself that I'm not going to strike out three times. Pavelski made a great pass to me, I just buried my head and I knew that puck was going to go in."
Gilbert, who was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the fourth round in 2002, before his rights were traded to the Edmonton Oilers, made a steady progression to a more offensive defenseman over his career at Wisconsin.
Gilbert tallied seven, six and eight goals in his previous three seasons, before notching 12 goals during the 2005-06 campaign.
"I've always thought of myself as an offensive defenseman," said Gilbert. Not a surprising statement considering he was a forward for most of his hockey career before being switched to defense when he played junior hockey.
As a defenseman you have to know when to take the chances and join the offensive rush.
"You want the players to play to their strengths," said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves. "One of Tommy's strengths is his offensive feel. ... I think working with (Badger assistant coach Mark) Osiecki has really solidified his ability to be a defenseman and develop his offensive skills and contribute in that way."
High praise from his coach, but Gilbert has more than earned that praise. He has led the Badgers in the plus-minus category in each of the past two seasons, as well as being adept at clearing the crease with his 6-foot-3, 210-pound body.
High praise also came from the media, with Gilbert being named as one of the defenseman on the all-tournament team.
"He's been one of our leading defense point getters," said Eaves. "He'll use those abilities at the next level as well."
That next level certainly awaits Tom Gilbert, as there is little doubt that the outgoing senior will be offered a professional contract by the Oilers.
However, as he closes out his career at Wisconsin, fresh off winning the National Championship, he's assuredly reveling in this moment first. After all, how can you not, when you will be forever remembered as the guy who scored the winning goal in front of 17,000 Badger fans in the Bradley Center, to give the Badgers their first national title in 16 years.
Not bad for a guy that grew up in Gopher territory.