Badgers Finally Give Thanks
by Gregg Paul/CHN Correspondent
MADISON, Wis. During this Thanksgiving season, there are truly more important things in the world to be thankful for. A family member's health, personal good fortune that is not tied to money, and world peace come to mind. Yet when you consider what Wisconsin has gone through so far in its attempt at defending the NCAA Championship, you would think they would truly be thankful for just a win.
The Badgers' anemic offense has only scored more than three goals only once this season. They have also been shut out twice and scored only once in five other contests. The stellar play of goaltender Brian Elliott has kept the Badgers in every game and given them the chance to pull out a victory.
Entering Friday night's matchup against Michigan in the College Hockey Showcase at the Kohl Center, the Badgers were riding a five-game losing streak and an abysmal 4-8-2 record. Despite the fact that Wisconsin found the back of the net three times, had Brian Elliott between the pipes, and got a much-needed lift from the return of sophomore Jack Skille, the Badgers ran their losing streak to six, dropping a 4-3 decision to Michigan.
"We feel like we were fortunate," said Michigan coach Red Berenson. "We obviously didn't get off to a good start. We got back into the game a little bit in the second period and made it a game again. The (goaltender) Billy Sauer was obviously the difference in the game and we were fortunate to get a couple of pucks past Elliott."
So on the one hand Michigan feels fortunate about their win. When you're going through a losing streak and a bit of self doubt begins to creep in, the Badgers take on the game was just a bit different.
"We had a couple of breakdowns that cost us," said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves.
Breakdowns that indeed were costly, however Eaves believes the Badgers were finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
"After the game I drew a big picture of the ocean, I put a big ocean liner in the middle of it, and I said We're going right into the middle of a gale storm, and we're trying to turn this thing around," Eaves said. "Tonight what I feel is that we're starting to turn this thing around. You don't turn a big ship around right away. We had more scoring chances than we have had in a long time. We scored three goals which was a positive. We probably, in my estimation probably out-chanced them tonight, and yet we still lost 4-3."
Coaches always look for the positives, even the most ugliest of losses. However, this was a game that was there for the taking for Wisconsin.
The Badgers seemed invigorated by the return of Jack Skille, as was evidenced by his very first shift of the game. Two big hits, a steal behind the Michigan net, a scoring chance in a prime position, and the Badger crowd on their feet.
After a Michael Davies goal got the Badgers on the board midway through the period, Skille electrified the crowd with his individual effort while shorthanded. Skille stole the puck at his own blueline, and walked in on Wolverine goaltender Billy Sauer. A laser beam wrister from the top of the right circle stalked the Badgers to a 2-0 lead after one period.
Michigan answered with goals from Tim Miller and T J Hensick, before Matthew Ford gave the Badgers a 3-2 lead heading into the final period.
In a span of a mere 27 seconds, the two aforementioned breakdowns extended the Badgers losing streak to six games and left many wondering what kind of luck the Badgers had or ran out of.
Wisconsin had numerous great scoring opportunities but just could not bury those chances. Skille and Davies both hit posts and several other plays could have resulted in goals if the puck would've bounced the Badger's way.
Yet do the Badgers even believe in luck at this point?
"Absolutely! I believe in luck, I'm Irish," grinned Jack Skille. "It's a big thing for me, I'm very superstitious."
Superstition or not, or whether or not luck is tangible, still does not equate to actual wins.
"Wisconsin is a lot better than their record," said Michigan coach Red Berenson. "We didn't give them the test that we wanted to give them. Our goalie stole the game."
"When the score was 3-2, it could've been 6-2 for Wisconsin," added Berenson.
If the Badgers are too right their listing ship, they're going to need to actually score those six goals, or at least step up the offense and not rely so heavily on net minder Brian Elliott. When you play elite teams like Michigan or Michigan State in an even such as the Showcase, a premium is placed on the entire team to perform.
"It's not a current rivalry, but a traditional rivalry," said Berenson.
A rivalry that is good for college hockey, and a rivalry that should be showcased.
The Badgers finally got their win Saturday night, defeating Michigan State 2-0. It still didn't score three goals, and is still one of the worst-scoring teams in the NCAA, down there with the likes of Merrimack and American International, but it found a formula for success.
As for Michigan, Berenson wasn't kidding when he said his team was lucky Friday, because it went to Mariucci on Saturday and got pummeled, 8-2.