by Gregg Paul/CHN Reporter
ST. PAUL, Minn. It was the best of intentions by Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves.
Knowing his team had played a lot of hockey lately, and knowing the focus might not be the same in what amounted to a meaningless game (albeit not for some teams that were affected by it in the Pairwise), Eaves planned to start standout senior goalie Brian Elliott in his last game, then take him off the ice at the first whistle to a tribute from fans and teammates.
But a funny thing happened along the way.
A St. Cloud goal a mere 29 seconds into the game by Andreas Nodl, on a play where Elliott appeared unfocused, was ultimately the end of his career.
"We debated long and hard and talked to a lot of people about having a goaltender play a fifth game in seven and a half days and three in three nights," Eaves explained afterwards. "I talked to guys who played in the American Hockey League, I played in the American Hockey League and coached, and talked to coach Os (Badger assistant coach Mark Osiecki) ... we just thought it was a daunting task.
"So we took a page out of basketball and wanted to start Brian and at the first whistle we wanted to have his teammates honor him by having him come off the ice and give him a salute and then kind of almost pass the torch off to Shane (Connelly) and get fresh legs in there.
"That was our intent, but unfortunately it didn't work the way we wanted it to."
Midway through the first period, the Badgers awakened from their daze and pumped some life back into their game. Jake Dowell converted a pass across the slot from Ross Carlson to tie the game, and for the rest of the period it seemed as if the Badgers we were used to were back.
Adrenaline, while a powerful thing, can also be a hindrance. The Badgers started to play more careless and out of position. They took more chances, especially defensively, as if they wanted to prove to Elliott and his understudy Shane Connelly that they could bail out the goaltenders.
Two power-play goals by St. Cloud State put Wisconsin back in its funk.
Yet just when it was beginning to look like the Badgers had finally packed it in and given up hope, Wisconsin got a power-play goal of its own to climb back into the game.
Though it was supposed to be a meaningless game, the ebb and flow of emotions struck yet again when Jack Skille, playing in what may have been his final collegiate game, deflected an Andrew Joudrey shot to tie the game at three and send it into overtime.
A team that had been much maligned for their poor offensive output all season long, had somehow found the grit and the energy to come back from a two-goal deficit and were on the brink of sending their seniors off on a positive note.
As the overtime waned on, it appeared the game would end in a tie. However, an icing led to a faceoff deep in the St. Cloud zone setting up the game-winning goal.
And far from being meaningless, it was meaningful to the likes of Clarkson, which gained a No. 1 seed to the NCAAs as a result.
"Actually it was just a conversation," said Eaves of the strategy on the final play. "Andrew (Joudrey) had been pretty successful on that side of the ice and they had been close on a couple of other tries. The guys came back to the bench and they were talking about 'Hey look, if we win the faceoff and you do this, they took away that and I had this.' They took charge of that moment."
A moment that shows the worth of having a senior laden lineup.
"No one quit. No one gave up, and the character of the team carried us through," said senior Andy Brandt. "You take it all in knowing it could be your last game."