Thursday, March 19, 2009

WCHA Playoff Semi-Finals: Wisconsin Badgers

(above) The Badgers play their home games at the Kohl Center

The Xcel Center, St. Paul MN.
March 20, 2009 - 1 PM
The University of Wisconsin Badgers

The post season continues for the WCHA No. 2 seeded Denver Pioneers (22-10-5, 16-8-4 WCHA), who meet the WCHA No. 3 seed Wisconsin Badgers (19-15-4, 14-11-3 WCHA) for the right to advance to the WCHA Championship Game on Saturday, and the defense of the Broadmoor Trophy, won by the Pioneers last season. Game time is 1:07 PM MT at the 18,064 seat Xcel Energy Center. The Game will be telecast on Fox Sports Rocky Mountain and Fox Sports North, while radio fans in the Denver area may tune to 1510 on the AM dial, with Jay Stickney handling the call.

The Pioneers are 54-71-9, including an 0-2 mark on neutral ice, all-time against Wisconsin in the series that began in 1967-68. DU is 0-8 against the Badgers in the WCHA Playoffs and 0-11 in postseason action. DU won the 2008-09 regular season series, 4-0, with sweeps in Denver (6-5, 7-4) on Oct. 17-18 and in Madison (4-3 ot, 5-0) on Feb. 20-21. DU is 4-1 in its last five games against Wisconsin and 5-5 in its last 10. Wisconsin defeated Denver, 6-2, in the last postseason meeting at the Kohl Center in Madison during the 2008 NCAA Midwest Regional.

Badgers to Watch
The Badgers are led by junior defenseman Jamie McBain, who is second among all NCAA blueliners with 7-29--36, and is a Hobey Baker Award candidate. McBain is one of 10 NHL drafted Badgers. Derek Stepan (9-24--33), Tom Gorowsky (12-18--30), Blake Geoffrion (15-12--27) and John Mitchell (15-11--26), round out Wisconsin’s top-five scorers. Shane Connolly leads the team with a 18-13-4 record, 2.54 GAA and .911 Sv% in the nets.

About the Wisconsin Program
According to Wikipedia and the UW web sites, records indicate that ice hockey was played at Wisconsin before 1900, but the first varsity game was played in 1921. Coaching changes were frequent and seasons were short, due presumably to relying on nature to provide suitable outdoor conditions, and the University dropped the sport in 1935.

The modern era of Badger Hockey began in 1963, with the decision of athletic director Ivan B. Williamson. The Badgers started out ambitiously, playing as an independent team and scheduling 8 games against Western Collegiate Hockey Association teams, losing all 8 games. However, the persistence eventually paid off. Late in the 1965-66 season, the Badgers finally broke through, beating the Minnesota Golden Gophers 5-4 in overtime, their first win over a WCHA opponent. At the end of that season, Coach John Riley retired, and UW hired "Badger" Bob Johnson (left), a former Minnesota Gopher player who would build the UW program into what it is today. Johnson would become one of the most the most legendary American hockey figures of all time, coaching not only the Badgers to NCAA glory, but winning a Stanley Cup as coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins and becoming an international fixture with USA Hockey as a coach and administrator.

The next milestone for UW hockey was WCHA membership, which came for the 1969-70 season. The Badgers shocked the hockey world by gaining an NCAA tournament berth in their first season as members of the WCHA. The early success captivated fans, who packed the 8,600 seat Dane County Coliseum off campus and made the arena what Sports Illustrated termed the “Montreal Forum of College Hockey”.

More success would follow under Johnson. After again earning an NCAA bid in 1972, the Badgers won their first national championship in 1973, over the Denver Pioneers. The 1977 UW team further cemented Wisconsin Hockey in the national landscape, by sweeping the WCHA regular season, tournament, and NCAA tournament titles. Behind the efforts of four first team All-Americans, Mike Eaves (the current head coach of UW) 1980 Olympic hero Mark Johnson (Badger Bob’s son and now coach of the UW women’ team), Craig Norwich and Julian Baretta) the 1977 team won the title in amazing fashion, getting an equalizing goal late in regulation and winning goal in overtime in the final against Michigan. Another player on that team, grinding forward George Gwozdecky, would later become the coach of the Denver Pioneers, cementing his own legend in Denver.

The early 1980s were a glory period for Badger Hockey. The Badgers reached the NCAA title game three consecutive times in 1981, 1982, and 1983. The 1981 title was especially sweet for the Badger faithful, coming with a defeat of archrival Minnesota in the championship game. After again reaching the championship game in 1982, where the Badgers lost to North Dakota, the program was dealt a double blow with the resignation of "Badger" Bob Johnson. He left Wisconsin after 15 seasons with 3 NCAA championships, a record of 367-175-23, and having built the program into an NCAA powerhouse.

The pain of 1982 was quickly eased in 1983, however, with the hire of former Badger assistant coach Jeff Sauer. Sauer turned around and won the 1983 NCAA championship in his first season. Wisconsin defeated Harvard 6-2 to earn the program's 4th NCAA title. Under Sauer's leadership, the Badgers would qualify for eight consecutive NCAA tournaments from 1988 to 1995, winning the program's 5th NCAA title in 1990, with a 7-3 victory over Colgate in Detroit. Also, Sauer presided over the team's move from the venerable Dane County Coliseum to the new, on-campus Kohl Center in 1998. The Badgers have been tops in college hockey attendance every year since moving to the Kohl Center, where crowds of 13,000 -15,000+ are the norm, with a rowdy band and and fully engaged student section. Wisconsin is also credited with the inventions of the "Sieve" cheer, now heard all over college hockey. A game in Madison is a special experience that all hockey fans should experience.

In the mid 1990s, Badger hockey hit a bit of a lull, earning NCAA bids in 1998 and 2000, but generally underachieving compared to the high standards of the 1970s and 1980s. The 1999-2000 team featured a duo of 2nd overall NHL draft pick Dany Heatley and Steve Reinprecht, won the MacNaughton Cup, and earned a #1 position in the polls for most of the season, only to be upset by Boston College in the NCAA regionals. Two seasons later, during the 2001-2002 campaign, coach Sauer announced his retirement.

Sauer's replacement was hotly debated. Denver’s George Gwozdecky was considered, but elected to stay at DU, and the selection came down to Mike Eaves and Mark Johnson, with Eaves getting the nod due to deeper coaching experience in the NHL and abroad. While Eaves still holds the record as UW's all-time leading scorer, he is a much more defensive-minded coach. His first season at UW was full of hardship and controversy, including one of the worst records in the modern era. However, in 2003-2004, Eaves brought the Badgers just short of the Frozen Four, falling in overtime to Maine. After a disappointing finish to the 2004-2005 season, the Badgers returned to national prominence by winning the 2005/2006 NCAA championship by winning the Frozen Four held in nearby Milwaukee. He is looking to return the Badgers to the pinnacle again, but recent teams have lacked the scoring depth needed to win Frozen Fours.

About the University of Wisconsin
Founded in 1848, the original idea of UW was to start the university near the seat of the state government in Madison, the capital city of Wisconsin. UW was founded the same year that Wisconsin became a state, and the University began with 17 students in rented rooms at the Madison Female Academy. Since then, it has grown to become one of America’s largest research universities, with over 42,000 students in 20 different schools, and the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin system over $900 million in research funding.

Early UW academic successes included the 1913 and 1916 discoveries of Vitamins A and B by UW scientist, Elmer V. McCollum, and the 1923 process for adding vitamin D to milk. In 1940, UW developed Warfarin, an important blood thinner,
(also known as Coumadin) and named it after the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation

In the 1960s and 70s, Madison and UW became a hotbed of anti-war protests including the August, 1970 bombing outside the Army Math Research Center in Sterling Hall, killing post-doctoral researcher Robert Fassnacht.

In 1988, two UW Madison students, Tim Keck and Christopher Johnson founded the Onion humor newspaper, and in 1998, UW cell biologist James Thompson first isolated and cultured human embryonic stem cells.

UW is a member of the Big 10 conference as well as the WCHA, and has really upgraded its athletic programs in recent years, and with no other comparable school in the state, UW Madison has a deep and passionate statewide following with large alumni chapters across the world.

Madison, Wisconsin
Known as one of America’s great college towns, the City of Madison is the State Capital with over 220,000 residents, and over 500,000 in the metropolitan area, the second largest city in Wisconsin after Milwaukee. The city was founded in 1836 as planned capital for the new Wisconsin Territory, and had only 626 people when UW was founded in 1848. The UW Campus has over 900 acres that occupy much of central Madison, sitting on an isthmus between Lake Monona and Lake Mendota in south central Wisconsin.

During the American Civil War, Madison served as a center of the Union Army in Wisconsin. Camp Randall, on the west side of Madison, was built and used as a training camp, a military hospital, and a prison camp for captured Confederate soldiers. After the war ended, the Camp Randall site was absorbed into the University of Wisconsin. Camp Randall Stadium was built over the site in 1917.

Today, the city is known for both its liberal leanings and for its reputation as a party town, helped along by 40,000+ UW students and the bars of State Street. It's a white collar place with a lot of culture, recreational opportunities and cheap alcohol.

University Traditions

Nickname – Badgers
The nickname "Badgers" was borrowed from the state of Wisconsin. The territory was dubbed the "Badger State," not because of animals in the region, but rather because of an association with lead miners. In the 1820s and 1830s, prospectors came to the state looking for minerals, and without shelter in the winter, the miners had to "live like badgers" in tunnels burrowed into the hillsides. The badger mascot was adopted by the University of Wisconsin in 1889.

Logo and Mascot:
"Buckingham U. Badger", aka “Bucky Badger” was chosen in a student contest in 1949. The current emblem, a scowling, strutting badger wearing a cardinal-and-white striped sweater, was designed by Art Evans in 1940. Bucky wears a cardinal red and white Wisconsin sweater along with a gruff look on his face (the costumed-mascot version is decidedly cheerier, with a beaming smile).He also has a history of playfully fighting other team's mascots like the University of Minnesota's Goldy Gopher or Purdue University's Purdue Pete. Although fighting is no longer allowed by NCAA mascots, Bucky still frequently interacts with other mascots through skits. Bill Sagal was the first costumed Bucky Badger. The original Bucky costume was introduced at a pep rally on Friday, November 11, 1949, before the next day's Homecoming football game against Iowa. Carolyn (Connie) Conrad, a UW art student, designed the original chicken wire and paper mache head. Sagal, then head cheerleader, wore his regular cheerleader trousers and sweater and added boxing gloves.

The modern Bucky Badger logo was part of a group of "comic collegiate badger mascots" created by the Anson W. Thompson Company of Los Angeles in 1940. The company was one of several that manufactured decals and other logowear for universities. The UW athletic department first used the logo on the cover of the 1948 Football Facts and Centennial Sports Review. In 2003, Bucky was given an update, with simplified lines and the "motion W" on his sweater.

Wisconsin School Colors:
Cardinal and white are the official colors of UW’s sports teams, and the color of cardinal shade or red comes originally from Catholic Cardinal’s Cassock (robe). Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa State, USC, Stanford and Wisconsin all use Cardinal as a school color, which is very close shade to crimson, the color of the Pioneers.

Wisconsin Fight Song
"On, Wisconsin!" is the fight song of the Wisconsin Badgers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It is also the official state song of Wisconsin. "On, Wisconsin!" was also the cry that Arthur MacArthur, Jr. used in the Battle of Chattanooga at Missionary Ridge, in the Civil War.

The tune was composed in 1909 by William T. Purdy, with the intention of entering it into a competition for a new fight song at the University of Minnesota. Carl Beck, a former University of Wisconsin-Madison student, convinced him to withdraw it from the contest at the last minute and allow his alma mater to use it instead. Beck then wrote the original, football-oriented lyrics, changing the words "Minnesota, Minnesota" to "On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!" (The eventual winner of the competition became known as the Minnesota Rouser).

The lyrics were rewritten for the state song in 1913 by Judge Charles D. Rosa and J. S. Hubbard. The song was widely recognized as the state song at that time, but was never officially designated. Finally in 1959, "On, Wisconsin!" was officially designated as the State Song. The song is actually in the public domain and used by hundreds of high school and small colleges, and is even used as the fight song of the CFL’s Saskatchewan RoughRiders.

On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Plunge right through that line!
Run the ball clear down the field,
A touchdown sure this time. (U rah rah)
On, Wisconsin! On, Wisconsin!
Fight on for her fame
Fight! Fellows! - fight, fight, fight!
We'll win this game.

Famous University of Wisconsin Alumni
The University of Wisconsin has many distinguished alumni including aviator Charles Lindbergh, Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, writers Saul Bellow, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen Ambrose and Eudora Welty, TV personalities Edwin Newman, Greta Van Susteren and Jeff Greenfield. Famous UW politicians include Dick and Lynn Cheney, Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, as well as musicians Steve Miller and Boz Skaggs.

Famous Sports Alumni include Alan Ameche, Ron Dayne, Troy Vincent and Crazy Legs Hirsch (Football), NBAers Michael Finley and Devin Harris, Baseball Hall of Famer Addie Joss, NHL Hockey players Chris Chelios, Dany Heatley,Tony Granato, Mike Richter and Gary Suter, and Olympians Eric Heiden, Suzy Favor Hamilton, Carly Piper and Horse trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

The Series

Defending Broadmoor Cup champion Denver seeks its WCHA-leading 16th playoff title, as DU has gone four-for-four in Red Baron WCHA Final Five titles (1999, 2002, 2005, 2008) in its last four attempts. While the Pioneers are 4-0 against Wisconsin this season, outscoring the Badgers 22-12, Denver is surprisingly 0-11 all time against Wisconsin in playoff action, DU comes into the series with serious injuries to centers and two best offensive players, Tyler Bozak and Tyler Ruegsegger, and a third center, Jesse Martin, is questionable with a groin injury. With so many injuries to key players, Denver will need some excellence from its remaining players in order to advance with a patchwork lineup. A win over the Badgers would go a long way towards clinching a top-4 seed in the NCAA playoffs, but this will not be certain until all playoff games are completed.

Career wise, Rhett Rakhshani has the best overall numbers against the Badgers, with 13 career points in 13 career games vs UW, but on a PPG basis, Patrick Wiercioch is probably the one player that scares the Badgers the most, as he has 9 points in just four career games against UW in just his first year in the league.

Offensively, Denver carries a 3.43 scoring average, good for 7th nationally, while UW is 10th nationally at 3.34. With DU’s top two offensive talents unable to play, Denver’s slight edge here has likely been eroded, and I'd give the edge to UW based on the Denver injuries, and the fact that UW offense is really clicking, with massive amounts of shots on goal last weekend in the playoffs vs Minnesota State.

Defensively, Denver has the 10th best defense nationally, letting in 2.38 GPG from its opponents, while UW is 23rd at 2.68 GPG. Denver has a slight edge here, and will likely need to play a top notch defensive game to emerge victorious.

In Goal, DU’s Marc Cheverie is 14th nationally at .921 in saves percentage, while UW’s Shane Connolly is 35th at .911. The edge here goes to Cheverie.

Special teams wise, Wisconsin enjoys a big edge, ranking 8th nationally vs Denver’s 36th best special teams. Wisconsin has a 19% PP good for eighth nationally, while Denver checks in at 24th with 17.4%, and that unit is likely to struggle without Tyler Ruegsegger’s PP goalscoring, which was tops in the WCHA this year. On the PK, Wisconsin has the 5th best kill at 88.2% nationally, while DU’s kill is 11th best at 87.1%. All in all, if the Badgers can exploit their special teams advantage on Denver, DU will likely lose.


Wisconsin will be playing for its playoff life, while Denver’s place in the NCAA tourney is secure, When you add to the fact that Denver has never beaten UW in a playoff game, it doesn't bode well, even though Denver's never lost a playoff game in the Xcel Energy Center, and when DU makes it there, they have always won the Broadmoor Trophy.

Prediction: As much as I’d love to see Denver hold off UW, I think the injuries down Denver’s middle are pretty devastating, and without DU’s two best offensive players and UW playing as well, as they are on special teams. UW is going to win the game, 3-1.

1 comment:

Pioneers04 said...

I'm surprised you didn't mention one of "Badger" Bob Johnson's grandsons.