March 16, 2007 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Wisconsin Another Rung Closer

by Gregg Paul/CHN Reporter

ST. PAUL, Minn. — There are several cliches used in sports to describe teams and situations. Sometimes these cliches are overused, over-hyped, and over-exaggerated. Yet Wisconsin has become the epitome of several cliches.

You can say the Badgers' backs are against the proverbial, needing to win three games in three days to qualify for the NCAA tournament.

You can say it's a do or die situation, too.

"It's the mindset of the whole team, it's not too much do or die, but it is our season," said senior captain Andrew Joudrey. "You know we have to keep winning to keep playing. That's a good motivational tool to have and we just have to keep that going and take one game at a time."

Badger coach Mike Eaves uses cliches and other analogies to describe his team and its precarious position in trying to defend its national championship from last season.

"We're looking at a ladder we have to climb," said Eaves. "We climbed the first rung tonight and we have to reach for the second one tomorrow. And if things go well, we'll start looking at the third."

That first rung was dispatching the Michigan Tech Huskies 4-0 before a WCHA Final Five Thursday record crowd of 16,449 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Senior goaltender Brian Elliott notched his fourth shutout of the season and 16th of his stellar career in leading the Badgers past Tech. Elliot stopped all 26 shots he faced in what was one of Wisconsin's most complete games of this season.

"It's like good starting pitching in baseball," Eaves said of Elliott. "When you have good starting goaltending, you give yourself a chance to be successful. Our job in front of Brian is to protect him a little bit and manufacture runs so that he can become a winning pitcher."

Despite Elliott's stellar 2.11 goals against average and .923 save percentage, the Badger offense has not given him much run support.

Andrew Joudrey thinks that even if there was the run support, the team would be nowhere without Elliott.

"To win in the playoffs you have to have great goaltending," said Joudrey. "Brian is the backbone of this team, he does a great job of taking whistles on the road, keeping us relaxed, keeping us alive shift to shift and hopefully we can keep the goals out of his mouth and help him out."

While it is not much of a surprise that Wisconsin was able to shut down Tech's offense, considering their own offensive woes this season, scoring four goals was a much welcomed change.

The Badgers received balanced scoring getting goals from freshmen Blake Geoffrion and Michael Davies, sophomore Tom Gorowsky and Joudrey.

The line of Geoffrion, Andy Brandt and Matt Ford were the sparks that the Badger offense sorely needed if they wanted to continue to climb their ladder.

"I think they were especially good for us tonight," said Eaves. "They really gave us a spark early in the game. As far as the coaching staff is concerned, that's as good as they have been all year."

There is a much-used cliche in sports that states that defense wins championships. If that statement is true, then based solely on regular season stats, it would be easy to just hand the championship trophy to the Badgers right now. Elliott is the staring pitcher to lead Wisconsin in their dream at defending their championship.

However there is a reason that they actually play the games in order to determine the champion. While Wisconsin statistically showed it is an elite defensive team, apparently someone forgot to tell the Badgers that they need to score a few goals as well. For at least this night, The Badgers gave Elliott more than enough run support and scored enough goals to win and keep the dream of climbing the ladder alive.

The space between the rungs may be a bit steeper, as Wisconsin will now face the WCHA regular season champion Minnesota Golden Gophers Friday night. If Elliott can get the same kind of run support and the team can continue to play a more complete game, climbing the next rung could get a bit easier. Although comparing Minnesota to a mere rung in the ladder of success could be construed as either a compliment or an insult depending on your point of view.

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