Badgers ready for tourney

first_imgWisconsin men’s hockey head coach Mike Eaves has talked all season about getting to the “top of the mountain.” He and his Badger squad will attempt to do just that starting this weekend, as the Badgers play Bemidji State in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Green Bay.After a win against Minnesota last weekend for third place in the WCHA tournament, the Badgers earned the No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament, giving them a considerable advantage over the rest of the field.The Badgers will also have the advantage of not having to play outside Wisconsin for the duration of NCAA play, as the Frozen Four will be held at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.”That’s a big help,” junior forward Andrew Joudrey said of the atmosphere in Green Bay. “As we saw at Lambeau, the support’s awesome up there. We still have to come ready to play, but that’s definitely something we like to have on our side, having our fans behind us.”The Badgers last played in Green Bay in a game at Lambeau Field against Ohio State Feb. 11. More than 41,000 Badger faithful showed up to cheer on Wisconsin to a 4-2 victory.This time around, the game will be at the Resch Center, home to the Green Bay Gamblers and venue for several Badger players’ USHL careers. Seniors Adam Burish and A.J. Degenhardt as well as sophomores Josh Engel and Kyle Klubertanz played for the Green Bay Gamblers before coming to Wisconsin. Assistant coach Mark Osiecki also coached the Gamblers prior to his UW coaching career.Along with playing on their own turf, the Badgers also play in one of the easiest regional brackets in the tournament. Third-seeded Colorado College struggled in the second half of the season and failed to make the WCHA Final Five after losing to St. Cloud State in the first round. The two seed, Cornell, is the lowest-ranking two seed in the tournament at No. 8, and they finished their season with a loss as well in the ECACHL championship game to Harvard.Bemidji State is not even ranked. The team made it into the tournament after winning the CHA championship over top-seeded Niagara. The Badgers, however won’t take their first-round opponent lightly.”We’re not going to underestimate Bemidji,” freshman Jack Skille said. “They’re a really good team, they beat some pretty good schools in the past and I think they’re going to give us a hard time if we take them easy.”Bemidji went 4-2-0 against WCHA teams this season, although their four wins came against Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State, two teams sitting in the bottom half of their conference standings.The Badgers themselves boasted a 6-1-0 record against non-conference opponents this season, though they did not play any CHA teams. Whatever the opponent, the Badgers know there is only one satisfactory result.”We know that we have to do our jobs,” Joudrey said. “Whether you’re a four seed or a one seed, you have to win two games to advance.”Should the Badgers win a pair of games in Green Bay, they will advance to the Frozen Four in Milwaukee, where they will take on the winner from the East Regional in Albany, N.Y.Wisconsin has appeared in three-straight NCAA tournaments, but has failed to make it to the Frozen Four in the two previous years. Maine knocked the Badgers out of the tournament in the East Regional Final in 2004, and Michigan took care of Wisconsin in the first round last year.This year, between the high expectations and a top seed, anything less than a championship will be disappointing for the Badgers.”Anything less than that is a failure,” Joudrey said of a national title. “The most important thing is the national championship. That’s our ultimate goal, and that’s what we’ve been working for all year.”Eaves will change the practice regimen throughout the tournament, with shorter practices that involve less physical play and almost no skating drills. His goal is to have his team peaking mentally and physically in the coming week and a half.”You’re going to be fresher mentally if you’re not skating, if you get on and off the ice quicker,” Eaves said. “All those little things help.”Wisconsin seems to be hitting its stride at the right time. After a slump in the second half of the season when goaltender Brian Elliott went down with an injury, the Badgers now seem to be clicking on all facets of the game, with their penalty kill strong as ever and their normally flaccid power play working as well.”Our numbers have been very good recently,” Eaves said of his team’s play with the man advantage. “I think in the second half of the year, we’ve been up above 20 percent and, in the playoffs, we’re pushing 25 percent. We hope that continues.”Also helping them peak will be the momentum from the 4-0 victory over interstate rival Minnesota last weekend, despite not winning the WCHA championship.”I think it helped us a lot to rebound against Minnesota the way we did,” Joudrey said. “It shows how we can play as a team and how we need to play to be successful.”The Badgers will also sport their playoff beards next week for good luck. Whether they work has yet to be determined.last_img

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