MILWAUKEE — The Chinese calendar will have to add another animal to its Zodiac because 2006 will forever be known as the Year of the Badger.
Two weeks after the Wisconsin women's hockey team won the national championship, the men's team followed suit with a title of its own by defeating Boston College 2-1 Saturday night at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.
The national championship marks the sixth in Badger history and the first for the program since 1990. It also made Wisconsin the first Division I program ever to win both the men's and women's Frozen Fours in the same year.
The Badgers overcame an early deficit to win the game and dodged a bullet in the waning seconds of play, when a shot by Boston College's Peter Harrold passed UW goaltender Brian Elliott's outstretched leg pad and bounced off the right post with 1.6 seconds to go.
While the stadium's collective heartbeat stopped with the shot, Elliott never had a doubt it would miss its target.
"Hopefully, if it was any closer, I would have gotten a pad on it," Elliott said. "Posts are your best friend, and I got one tonight."
The post ended one of the longest minutes in the Badgers' history. Simply scrambling to keep the Eagles from scoring, especially when Boston College pulled goaltender Cory Schneider with less than 30 seconds left, the Badgers held on for the last minute of play to take the title.
"My group was the next group up, and I was looking for a change just so I can get out there [and] be in some kind of control," UW captain Adam Burish said of enduring the last minute of play from the bench. "All of a sudden, [the ref] waves off the shot, and you don't know what to do."
The Badgers found themselves in a hole early in the game after a costly mistake in their defensive zone. BC's Dan Bertram played the role of aggressor, as Wisconsin attempted to move the puck forward. After forcing a turnover along the end boards, Bertram managed to skip the puck in front of the net, where it bounced around briefly before Pat Gannon backhanded it past an unsuspecting Elliott.
"It was a bad bounce off [Bertram's] stick, and he managed to get it out in front of the net," Elliott said of the goal. "Somehow, he got it up with a backhand. It was a really good goal. He just got it top shelf."
UW's Robbie Earl answered back at the start of the second period with a remarkable goal of his own. Earl made a move toward the bench after a hit in the neutral zone jarred his shoulder, but upon seeing Joe Pavelski keep the puck in the offensive zone, the Badgers' leading scorer skated up the left side and one-timed a Burish feed past Schneider.
When the teams went into the third frame tied 1-1, the game came down to 20 minutes for the title.
With the Badgers on the power play, Pavelski found senior defenseman Tom Gilbert with a pass from the left side of the goal. Gilbert, camped out at the same spot he had occupied in the Badgers' previous power plays, took a shot from the top of the slot that hummed past Schneider and gave Wisconsin a small cushion with which to work.
The shot was Gilbert's third opportunity to score on the night. He had taken a similar shot off a Jake Dowell feed that Schneider blocked. This time, however, he would not be denied.
"I was thinking to myself, 'I'm not going to strike out three times,'" Gilbert said. "Joe Pavelski made a great pass to me, I buried my head, and I knew the puck was going to go in."
The goal was a culmination of the countless power play opportunities throughout the match. The Badgers had the man advantage eight times Saturday night — five prior to Gilbert's goal — while the Eagles had only four such chances throughout the game.
"One power play goal was the difference in the game," BC head coach Jerry York said. "We couldn't score a power-play goal, and we had four chances. We gave them eight."
When looking at the shot count in the third period, it seemed only a matter of time before the Badgers scored, as they outshot Boston College 11 to four. They finished the game outshooting the Eagles 39 to 23, including a 17-shot first period that was the highest first-period total in a NCAA title game since 1988.
With the championship win, the senior class, known as the "Junction Boys" for the hardships they went through in head coach Mike Eaves' first year, won the title they had yearned for since those first grueling practices.
"It's a storybook ending and a Cinderella story," senior forward Ryan MacMurchy said. "We hadn't won anything our whole four years. It was everything it lived up to be in our dreams, and we got it done with blood, sweat and tears."