The Wisconsin Badgers and the Boston College Eagles will meet in the National Championship game on Saturday after convincing wins over RIT and Miami respectively in Thursday’s semi-final games.
This year will be a rematch of the 2006 National Championship game where Wisconsin edged Boston College 2-1 in Milwaukee.
The Badgers advanced after routing RIT 8-1 in the first semi-final game. Sophomore Derek Stepan (NYR) netted a pair of goals, including the game winner, and added two assists to lead Wisconsin. Junior defenseman Brendan Smith (DET) tied an NCAA Tournament record with five assists as well. The eight goals that the Badgers scored were the most given up by RIT all season.
After a solid opening period, Wisconsin exploded for four goals in the second period. One of the turning points of the game came at the 10:26 mark of the second period when RIT sophomore Mark Cornacchia was assessed a major penalty and a game misconduct for hitting from behind. It would result in Wisconsin getting power-play goals from seniors Michael Davies and Blake Geoffrion (NSH) just over two minutes apart.
Two areas where Wisconsin excelled against RIT were in the transition game and in their relentless forechecking. Those areas proved to be problematic for the Tigers, particularly in the second period when the seemingly constant parade to the penalty box took place.
“We really wanted to establish our forecheck, that was the biggest thing,” Smith said in describing Wisconsin’s approach. “Our transition was really quick and I don’t think they were able to handle it at times. That was the key; it worked for us and helped us be successful in this game.”
Despite giving up six goals, RIT senior netminder Jared DeMichel played well, making several key stops throughout the contest. DeMichel’s Wisconsin counterpart, junior Scott Gudmandson, wasn’t quite as a busy, but was solid when called upon. The lone goal that he gave up came near the end of the second period when sophomore Tyler Brenner scored on the power play to get RIT on the board.
In the other game, the BC Eagles handed top-seeded Miami a stunning 7-1 loss on Thursday. The seven goals allowed were the most that the RedHawks have surrendered all season. Senior Ben Smith (CHI) tallied a pair of goals and added an assist to lead Boston College. Sophomore Jimmy Hayes (TOR) chipped in a goal and an assist for the Eagles as well.
Boston College, who last won the National Championship in 2008, hopes to add another on Saturday. One of the players from the 2008 team was senior Ben Smith.
“It is different being here as a senior knowing that this is your last chance at it," he said. "And because of that, I think it’ll be a little more special if we are successful in winning it on Saturday.”
Boston College’s team speed and exceedingly quick transition game handcuffed Miami throughout the game. But where the Eagles were particularly dangerous was along the boards, where several of the plays that resulted in goals began.
The RedHawks fate would be sealed midway through the third period, when Boston College potted three goals in a span of 1:35 on tallies by sophomores Cam Atkinson (CBJ) and Paul Carey (COL), and freshman defenseman Patch Alber.
Junior John Muse was outstanding between the pipes for Boston College despite facing only 18 shots. The lone goal he allowed came at the 5:19 mark of the third period when freshman defenseman Joe Hartman’s wrist shot found its way to the back of the net to get Miami on the board.
Saturday’s contest between Wisconsin and Boston College pits two excellent transition teams against one another. The Badgers will be making their ninth National Championship game appearance, while Boston College will be making their 10th appearance.
“We cycled really well against Miami and that’s going to be key for us to maintain that cycle against Wisconsin,” freshman defenseman Brian Dumoulin (CAR) noted. “We need to be able to get pucks out to the points and get shots on goal as well. Whatever players they throw out there, we’re going to do what we need to do to shut them down.”
Another similarity that both squads possess is a prolific offensive attack. Boston College comes into the game riding a 12-game (11-0-1) undefeated streak. In that span, the Eagles have outscored their opponents by a 62-29 margin.
“They’ve scored a ton of goals, but we have too so it should be a great game,” noted Hayes. “I think with the speed, it’s going to have an exciting pace so I think it will be great for our game.”
“I think it just comes down to playing hard, simple, smart and as a team,” Stepan said. “It’s going to be a fun game and it’s going to be energetic. We are similar teams and there is going to be a lot of up-and-down action.”
Wisconsin comes in having won six of their last seven games, with the lone loss coming against St. Cloud State in the WCHA Final Five semi-finals last month. In that span of seven postseason games, the Badgers have outscored their opponents by a 33-14 margin.
One area that could ultimately decide the winner is special teams. Wisconsin has proven to be lethal on the power play. Of their 33 goals scored this post-season, 10 have come on the man advantage. Boston College has tallied 10 power-play markers during their current unbeaten streak, but where they have been particularly dangerous has been in shorthanded situations, where they have netted five goals.
“I think special teams will be a key,” said Geoffrion. “We have to stay out of the box, because I think it’s one of their strengths, especially the power play. They have some skilled guys and we have to be able to play them five-on-five and roll four lines. We also need to grind their game, if we want to win.”