March 17, 2007 PRINT Bookmark and Share

The King Is Dead, Long Live the King

by Gregg Paul/CHN Reporter

Wisconsin's dream of repeating as national champions came to an official crashing halt Friday night, in dropping a 4-2 decision to the Minnesota Golden Gophers before a WCHA Final Five record crowd of 19,359 at the Xcel Energy Center.

Blake Wheeler's hat trick into the empty net was the final nail in the coffin.

It's seems fitting that the end came with Wisconsin's stellar netminder on the bench for the extra attacker; they have ridden on Brian Elliott's back for the past two seasons.

"It was a tight game, the kind of hockey you would probably expect to see in a playoff situation," said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves. "A one goal game with an empty netter that came down to details. Elliott was solid for us and he gave us a chance."

Faced with the unenviable and daunting — and unprecedented — task of needing to win all three games to qualify for the NCAA tournament, the Badgers stayed resolved to play on as if they had more than a reasonable chance.

"There's no quit in this team," said Jake Dowell. "It's tough right now. It's tough to kind of let this sink in. At the same time we don't know exactly what is going to happen, we still have another game tomorrow and there's no quit in this team and we still have a lot of pride. We're going to go out there tomorrow and give it everything we have."

Despite the optimism in Dowell's statement, the Badgers fate was sealed with this loss. The computer system the NCAA uses for the tournament selection process is defiant that Wisconsin has no prayer of receiving a bid to the tournament.

"Talking to some people about the formula," said Eaves, "I'm not sure I understood why we go into Denver and they were 10th, we win both games, they slip to 14th and we stay at 20th. He used a word I never heard before, the word is kludge."

Apparently Kludge is a computer slang term for there are too many moving parts. Perhaps Eaves and gang would prefer the more sophisticated computer model known as KRACH — which the NCAA doesn't use — which has the Badgers No. 11.

Or perhaps Eaves and the Badgers are in denial that their season is over before they wanted it to be. All the kludge in the world will not change the fact that the Badgers' reign as champion is over.

Yet they did not go down with a whimper. Trailing 1-0 early in the first period on Wheeler's first goal of the game, the Badgers controlled the flow of the game, outshooting the Gophers, 14-10. They received a renewed burst of energy when Davis Drewiske's harmless shot from the point deflected off the skate of Minnesota defenseman Erik Johnson with only 44 seconds left in the first period to even the score at 1-1.

But Wheeler's second goal of the game, with four seconds left in the middle period, gave the Gophers a 3-2 lead. The Badgers could not muster a rally in the third.

They say it is much tougher to repeat as champion than it is to win a championship for the first time. Though in recent years both the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Denver Pioneers were able to accomplish that feat, before succumbing in their three-peat try. The Badgers were attempting to join that elite company and defend their national championship from last season.

Riddled with injuries to key players early in the season like Jack Skille and Ross Carlson, and coupled with the defection of Joe Pavelski and Robbie Earl to the pros, led to a sub-.500 record — a definite sense of under-achievement for a team that was once projected as a favorite to win another title.

The King is dead. Long live the king. Though, as Mel Brooks is famous for saying: "It's good to be the King!"

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