Wisconsin, Colorado College at Their Best
Red-Hot Badgers, Tigers Meet for WCHA Championship
by Nathan Wells/CHN Reporter
ST. PAUL, Minn. Desperate times call for desperate measures. In the case of Wisconsin and Colorado College, desperate teams playing for their season make for some of the best hockey.
For the third time in four years, both the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the WCHA Final Five have failed to make the championship game. Instead, the fourth-seeded Badgers and sixth-seeded Tigers will play their third game in as many days Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center. On the line are the Broadmoor Trophy and the WCHA's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Wisconsin punched its ticket to the Final Five championship by defeating St. Cloud State, 4-1, Friday afternoon. Nic Kerdiles and Joseph LaBate had a goal and an assist apiece as they continue to play their best hockey following a 1-7-2 start to the season.
“They’re just dialed in right now,” St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said about Wisconsin after Friday's game. “I didn’t think we played that poorly. They just make it very difficult for you to score on them.”
The Badgers have relied on special teams and defense in their two wins this weekend. After scoring two shorthanded goals in Thursday’s victory over Minnesota State, they were more disciplined Friday against the Huskies. That paid off with two power-play goals, including one 11 seconds into a five-minute St. Cloud State major penalty that dashed the Husakies chances of coming back.
Joel Rumpel, meanwhile, has continued to give the Badgers solid goaltending between the pipes. The sophomore made 30 saves Friday and hasn’t allowed an even strength goal in the Final Five.
“I think the fact that Joel is playing so well may have gotten in (St. Cloud State’s) heads,” said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves, who is coaching in first Final Five championship game.
Rumpel would be the story if it weren’t for Colorado College senior goaltender Joe Howe. The Plymouth, Minn., native made all 35 saves Friday night, and the Tigers defeated Minnesota, 2-0. Howe stood on his head at times against the No. 1 offense in the country. Howe isn't the only Tiger at his best at the moment.
“Things have been going our way a little bit, but we’ve been playing a team game. We’re sticking together,” senior Rylan Schwartz said. "We’re not panicking at all so I think it’s kind of paying off for us too.”
The CC penalty kill continues to shine as well, having killed all nine penalties in the last two games. They’ll be challenged by the Badger power play Saturday night but are hoping that their experience leads them through any rough spots.
“It’s a group of seven guys from all different backgrounds. Some of them have been good players. Some of them have been average players in their careers,” said Colorado College coach Scott Owens, who is hoping to win the school’s first Broadmoor Trophy. “Everybody is getting involved and taking the team on their shoulders a little bit."
This game is important in the grand scheme of the NCAA Tournament. With conference tournament upsets not being exclusive to the WCHA, and Colorado College currently 25th in the Pairwise, both teams need to win Saturday to get into the NCAA tournament. That hasn’t changed much from the beginning of the week and hasn’t affected their mindset.
“That’s why when you look at this week Wisconsin and CC have been the most consistent tournament teams because they are playing to extend their season,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said following Friday’s loss.
How the desperate teams will play once there is something on the line remains to be seen. It’s been a running theme throughout the Final Five that defense and good goaltending make a winning formula. In all four games so far, the team that has been out-shot has won. Colorado College and Wisconsin have earned their way to one last WCHA Final Five championship by overcoming obstacles. One more remains for both teams, and they'll both bring their best on Saturday to decide the tournament.