Wisconsin Got Boost This Year From Two Returning Vets
by Joe Meloni/CHN Reporter
DETROIT When Blake Geoffrion returned to Madison from Winter Break last season, he marched into Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves' office to tell the coach that he'd made a decision.
After consulting his family and considering the value of a fourth year at the Kohl Center, Geoffrion told his coach that he planned to return to the Badgers for his final year of eligibility. Eaves was grateful to hear the news for a few reasons. He mentioned that it gave him a better understanding of his incoming recruiting class, but it also meant less time tinkering with his forward lines. One more senior in the lineup eventually meant 25 more goals for the Badgers.
Eaves received some good news about another player who would be a senior this season. Ben Street, who suffered a knee injury and missed most of the 2008-09 season, received a medical hardship waiver to play this season.
"I'm a believer in everything happens for a reason," Street said on Wednesday. "I used that as motivation last year. Obviously, the silver lining in getting hurt early that I could take a redshirt. I started looking at how I could get back and how fast I could get back. I started looking at the guys we were going to have back for this year, and I knew we were going to have a pretty good squad. I knew could be a special year. All last year when I was trying to rehab and get myself back into playing shape, it was all about being able to make it back [to the Frozen Four]."
Eaves knew there stood a chance for Badgers to compete this season, but, as early as last season, things started to fall into place for this year. Perhaps it helped that 2008-09 was a struggle for Wisconsin throughout.
Geoffrion and the other Badger upperclassmen understand that legacy plays a major role in their program. To be remembered by the Badger fans, it takes a national championship. Street, the lone Badger that played on the 2005-06 championship team, remembers the emotion he experienced winning it as a freshman and wants, in his final season with the program, to feel that again.
"I have had the opportunity to win it, and I remember that feeling. The last few years we have come up short, and I remember that feeling even better," Street said. "It motivates you, and everyone wants to win their last game. More than getting caught up in it, we use it as motivation."
The low of missing the tournament altogether last season drives the Badgers to maintain their focus and reach Saturday's championship game. There's no talk of an overlooked opponent or the Badgers failing to take RIT seriously. The leaders on this team won't let that happen, like it has in the past. They remember their first game at the Kohl Center in 2006 when the university celebrated its sixth national championship by raising the national championship banner. Junior Ryan McDonagh remembers the evening as the reason he decided to commit to the Wisconsin.
A year later in his first game with the Badgers, he stood in Chestnut Hill, Mass., at Conte Forum as Boston College raised its banner celebrating the 2007-08 national championship. It's a feeling they experience once and never forget.
After the failure of last season, though, they learned that while playing for the Badgers provides the opportunity to play for a national championship, winning it requires dedication and an understanding that winning is not a right but a privilege earned. Teams that don't understand that concept don't play hockey in April. Their seasons end in early March like Wisconsin's did last season.
Like Street said, he remembers that feeling even better.