Neutralized: Wisconsin Unable to Crack BC
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
DETROIT As good as Wisconsin looked throughout the season, and particularly down the stretch, Boston College was able to neutralize the Badgers in every which way.
That's why Boston College is national champion, and Wisconsin fell one game short.
"They did a tremendous job of getting in our shooting lanes," Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. "It was our inability to get the pucks out at our blue line and them in deep below the dots [in their zone]."
From the get go, Wisconsin was frustrated by the inability to get shots through on BC goalie John Muse. The few times it did, Muse stood up to the challenge. For the game, Wisconsin has 20 shots on net. Seventeen others were blocked.
The Badgers knew it would have to contend with BC's speed, but the Eagles also had a perfect defensive game plan. Perfect in its design, and perfect in its execution.
Making things even more difficult were the ice conditions at Ford Field. The players and coaches were reluctant to talk about it, not wanting to make it sound like an excuse. And, certainly, the conditions affected both teams.
"Was it the best ice? It was slow and soft, but both teams had to play on it," Eaves said. "You deal with it."
But when a team is so effective at blocking shooting lanes like BC was, a potential counter measure is to make an extra pass, an extra move, or use the players' innate talent to get around it. But the slow ice made that more difficult to accomplish.
"There's no question. The ice wasn't conducive to being fancy," Eaves said. "You have to play a simpler game. ... As a coach, you don't want to make that excuse for your team — both teams play on it — but in terms of what it forces you to do, you have to play a simpler game."
Wisconsin forward Craig Smith agreed.
"It is [harder]," Smith said. "And I'm not trying to say the game was based on bounces — but they handled their bounces better. Not to say one team had more than the other, but they handled it better, they played simple, and we were playing desperate trying to put the puck in the net."
Wisconsin tried to make some adjustments, but they didn't work.
"We were trying to move the puck side to side and get a shot real quick," Smith said. "One pass and get a shot in. Those situations, when they're playing like that, it's tough. Obviously you try to throw it at the side of the net and get there and capitalize."
BC also did a good job capitalizing off the blocks, and getting out in transition.
"They like to keep the puck on the outside and use their speed and try to go around us," Wisconsin defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "I thought we did a pretty good job handling it in the beginning of the game. They got around us a couple times and made us pay, no question about it."
And, like Eaves said Friday, there's always an 'X' factor in these kinds of games — the randomness.
"I just think we didn't have our best effort tonight in terms of being sharp," Eaves said. "On our last power play, Brendan Smith had the puck right where he wanted to, and he fanned on it. Michael Davies knocked the puck out of the air, was [going] on the breakaway, it bounced on him, and it just didn't seem to be our day. But that doesn't take away from what Boston College did."
Still, Wisconsin was only down 1-0 heading into the third period. Then came a backbreaking backhander from Cam Atkinson that squeezed through the pads of Wisconsin goalie Scott Gudmandson. That was followed 2:02 later by Chris Kreider's goal on the back door.
"Moreso on the third goal [was the backbreaker]," Eaves said. "Because 2-0 is the worst lead in hockey. If you could just pop one, then you've got hope and the crowd is into it — but we were never able to, and they did a terrific job at blocking shots. I can't tell you — from that standpoint, it was a big factor in the game.
"They collapse really did and they get out and block shots. It was a great job by them."
Still, it was one of those great seasons — as great as can be for any team that doesn't win a national championship. Only one team can win, and those that fall short, can still say they accomplished a lot of good things.
"We talked about this being a journey," Eaves said. "And we got near the top of the mountain, but we weren't quite able to stick the flag in the top. But we accomplished great things.
"The fundamental thing you want to ask your players is, did they leave everything on the ice. Did we do that tonight? Absolutely we did. ... We didn't lose back-to-back games all year. ... We walk out of here proud but disappointed."