Wisconsin Badgers win the 2006 NCAA National Championship

By DJ Powers

For the Wisconsin Badgers, the view from the top of that mountain looks great right now. For Boston College, last night was a very bitter defeat that was just too emotionally painful for players like graduating senior defenseman and team captain Peter Harrold, who was down on one knee at the Boston College blue line in tears. His outstanding season and career at Chestnut Hill finished in bitter disappointment.

The top-seeded University of Wisconsin faced third-seeded Boston College for the NCAA National Championship crown on Saturday night. The game featured a classic battle between two excellent defensive teams and the nation’s two premiere goaltenders in junior Brian Elliott (OTT) for Wisconsin and sophomore Cory Schneider (VAN) for Boston College. This marks the first time that these two college hockey powerhouses have met in the National Championship game.

The game was a very hard-fought battle through and through by two of the nation’s most storied programs. When it was all said and done, it was the boys from Madison that emerged as the new champions in front of a deafening, raucous, and overwhelmingly cardinal and white donning crowd of over 17,000 that filled the Bradley Center on Saturday night. Senior defenseman Tom Gilbert (EDM) notched the game winning power-play goal at the 9:32 mark of the third period to give Wisconsin their sixth national championship and their first in 16 years.

“You know what, when I came here as a freshman, out of all of our seniors I scored the first goal. I told everyone that I was going to score the last one too and it worked out,” joked Gilbert after the game.

The game started with some great intensity that gradually grew. Wisconsin dominated play for much of the opening period thanks to some aggressive forechecking and excellent puck cycling in the offensive zone. But Schneider stood tall in the Eagles net, stopping all 17 of Wisconsin’s first period shots.

Boston College, like in their series against North Dakota used their team speed, quickness and superb outlet passing to great advantage throughout the game. In the process, they gradually opened up the game.

It didn’t take long for the physical play and intensity to pick up.

Boston College got into some penalty trouble with some obstruction calls. Of the Eagles four penalties called in the period, three were against sophomore Dan Bertram (CHI).

At the 9:01 mark, sophomore Pat Gannon got the Eagles on the board first on a goal that started with some great work by Bertram along the backboards. Bertram got it out to Gannon. As the puck made its way to the front of the Wisconsin net, it went off of the skate of a Badgers defender before coming loose. Gannon corraled the loose puck and flips a backhander over Elliott for the score. Bertram drew the lone assist.

While Boston College did draw four penalties in the opening period, they were very effective in their penalty killing. Utilizing their ability to force the Wisconsin puck carriers, they were able to also generate some excellent short-handed opportunities.

The second period began with some good early jump by Boston College, forcing Elliott to make several key saves.

At the 1:17 mark, junior Robbie Earl (TOR) got the equalizer for Wisconsin. It began with a nice centering feed by senior Adam Burish (CHI) to Earl. Earl then pushes the puck in as he’s crashing the net for the score. Burish and sophomore Joe Pavelski (SJ) drew the assists on Earl’s tally.

Some great individual battles went on throughout the game as the fight for puck possession and territorial domination steadily intensified.

Very early into the third period, Pavelski was given a glorious scoring chance, but once again Schneider came up big for Boston College.

Both teams were guilty of some turnovers that led to some great scoring opportunities for the other team. About three minutes into the final stanza, Wisconsin nearly capitalizes on a horrible Boston College line change that created a three-on-one situation for Wisconsin. Fortunately for the Eagles, no goal was scored.

Boston College freshman defenseman Anthony Aiello (MIN) would be called for a hook at the 8:34 mark, putting the Badgers on the power play for the sixth time in the game. Senior defenseman Tom Gilbert (EDM) would give Wisconsin their first lead of the game, and what would become the game and national championship winning goal on an absolutely beautiful feed from Pavelski near the corner boards. Gilbert, who had been buzzing around the Boston College slot area all game long, came into the area to receive Pavelski’s pass and proceeds to rifle a shot that beats Schneider for the score. Pavelski and Burish drew the assists on the goal and both notched their second assists of the game.

For the remainder of the game, Wisconsin did an excellent job of stifling Boston College’s onslaught that began to come in waves. Elliott, who only faced four shots in the third period, was up to task when he was called upon. The Badgers were outstanding in their penalty killing and shot-blocking, something that contributed to Boston College’s low shots on goal total for the period.

With time winding down and Schneider out for the extra attacker, Boston College attacked the Wisconsin net with a furious stream of shots. The Eagles and Badgers players were in front of the net scrambling for any loose pucks in the chaos. Harrold managed to get a shot off that nearly went in but hit the post instead in the waning moments of the game.

With the final 10 seconds ticking down, the Badgers bench and the mostly Wisconsin Badgers favoring crowd were anxiously waiting to erupt. When the final buzzer sounded, the Wisconsin bench jumped up in unison with the Badger faithful in absolute joy.

“I was dead tired, but that wasn’t anything. It was just something you’re trying to gut out.” said Pavelski at the post-game press conference in describing what the final seconds felt like to him. “You heard three, two, one and then all of sudden it couldn’t come fast enough, just like the rest of the game. I’m sure Elliott got a piece of it, knowing him. It was just a shot, you saw it get tipped, and you’re just like ‘Oh please.’’’

For outgoing senior Ryan MacMurchy (STL), the feeling was both of great joy and sadness. The joy was having finally accomplished the goal that he and his Wisconsin teammates set for themselves at the beginning of the season and the sadness because his career at Wisconsin comes to an end.

“I’ve still got mixed emotions here. I don’t want to take my jersey off yet. Four years — it’s been a long road, but hey we won our last game for the senior guys and that’s all you can ask for. I’m just so proud of everyone in the locker room and we got it done. It was everything it lived up to be in our dreams and we got it done with blood, sweat and tears,” said a happy but somewhat melancholy MacMurchy.

On the other side, it was a very bitter pill to swallow for Boston College, who fought so valiantly in the game only to come out on the losing end of such a close game.

“It’s an honor to play with these guys,” said a somber Brian Boyle (LA) at the post-game conference in reflecting on the Eagles outgoing seniors. “Everyone bought into the program and worked so hard. We were led by three unbelievable seniors who meant so much to our team both on and off the ice. We were fortunate to have that and it will carry over to the next season, we’ll be better because of it.”

Senior Stephen Gionta summed up his feelings of going back to Boston without the national championship. “It’s very disappointing – it was a close game. Our guys fought as hard as they could. We gave it all we had for all 60 minutes and we came up short. It was a great season and we’re very proud of what we did.”

The Wisconsin Badgers win now makes it five years in a row that a WCHA team has won the national championship. It also marked the fourth time in the last five years that a Hockey East team finished as runner-up.

Frozen Four All-Tournament team

Goal: Brian Elliott, Wisconsin
Defense: Tom Gilbert, Wisconsin
Defense: Brett Motherwell, Boston College
Forward: Adam Burish, Wisconsin
Forward: Chris Collins, Boston College
Forward: Robbie Earl, Wisconsin (MVP)

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.