Team Effort as Wisconsin Reaches Frozen Four
Tired Legs, Badgers' Attack, Does In St. Cloud
by Dan Myers/CHN Staff
ST. PAUL, Minn. St. Cloud State has talked for two weeks about getting its top players going in big games.
Saturday night in the NCAA West Region championship, Wisconsin decided to take a different strategy.
The Badgers got three goals from unlikely sources — including two from rugged forward John Mitchell — to score a 5-3 win over the Huskies, advancing to their 11th Frozen Four in school history.
The goals snapped a 15-game drought for the senior, who scored the game's opening goal just 2:31 into the first period as well as the game winner with 13:06 to play.
"We had people step up at the right time and it was good to see," said Badgers coach Mike Eaves.
"Right now, it's about the team," Mitchell said. "I've just been trying to do my part, pick up my play when some of the other guys aren't scoring and then backing those players up."
The first period was the difference for Wisconsin, which jumped out to a 2-0 lead on a Blake Geoffrion goal at 13:18. SCSU's Jared Festler followed with his first of two goals on the night but less than a minute later, UW defenseman Jake Gardiner tallied just his sixth of the season to steal the momentum right back.
And it wasn't the last time Wisconsin did it.
Festler's second goal at 4:16, a shorthanded marker, made it a one-goal game once again, but Mitchell answered under three minutes later, ending any hopes of a Husky comeback. Even when Tony Mosey made it 4-3 with 2:50 to play, Aaron Bendickson was able to ice the game less than two minutes later with an empty netter.
"They did a nice job with everything we had," said SCSU captain Garrett Raboin. "It seemed like once we got our head up out of the hole, they would knock us back down. We didn't run with the momentum very much at all, and the result is what you see on the board."
Getting offense from Mitchell and Gardiner was a boon for the Badgers, who seemed to be relying on goals from Geoffrion and Michael Davies in each of the last two weekends. Geoffrion had a goal and two assists Saturday, and was named the West Region's Most Valuable Player, but was quick to praise Mitchell.
"Mitchy stepped up in a huge game," Geoffrion said. "[He] does a lot of other good things though. He's physical, always a big supporter of the guys on the ice, on the bench, talking guys up and keeping it going. Just because he hasn't scored for a long time doesn't mean he's not a part of this team and doing stuff for us. I commend Mitchy on that. He stepped up big tonight and I'm proud of him."
"When you get to this time of year, you're looking for offense from anybody and everybody," Eaves said. "To have John step up, that speaks to the depth this team has displayed all year. That is the kind of thing you need to have happen if you are going to win these games."
To his own credit, Geoffrion was a beast all weekend. In addition to his three points Saturday, the senior was a vital cog on the Badger penalty kill — which was 7-for-7 killing penalties against a potent Husky power play.
"They pressured us hard today, got to all the loose pucks and won battles," Festler said. "We didn't move the puck like we usually do and that is what cost us."
"Wisconsin changed it up, they were very aggressive on our power play," said Huskies coach Bob Motzko.
The victory continued a trend in the overall season series. In five previous games, the teams traded wins. St. Cloud's win last week in the WCHA Final Five meant Wisconsin would walk out of St. Paul this weekend on its way to Detroit for the Frozen Four.
SCSU was visibly tired just 24 hours after a double overtime win against Northern Michigan to advance to the Region Final. The Huskies had tired legs, and it showed — especially in the crucial first period advantage for Wisconsin.
"There was a fatigue on our team and we could not make the right decision," Motzko said. "Our tanks were on empty tonight and Wisconsin's was on full. We played a lot of hockey over the few weeks and we seen that in first period."
Wisconsin, the tournament's third overall seed, advances to Ford Field in two weeks to take on upstart RIT in one national semifinal. It is the Badgers' first Frozen Four bid since winning the National Championship in 2006.
"It feels incredible," Geoffrion said. "I know a lot of seniors have worked since our freshman year, coming in after a championship team and seeing how those guys work and how hard they work. So for us to get the opportunity to possibly go to the national championship game is an incredible feeling right now.
"But the job's not done yet."