Only six days short of seven years ago, the memory is still as vivid in my mind as when it happened. The date was March 26, 2006. After a typical Wisconsin winter, it was finally springtime and, at about 50 degrees in the late afternoon, it was warm enough outside to wear shorts.
As my whole life was consumed with sports, naturally I was outside in the driveway with my brothers playing basketball while the radio broadcast the women’s hockey national championship in the background as the Badgers took home their first crown.
March Madness also happened to be in full swing and along with the unmistakable scent of spring (mud and grass) hovering in the air was the slight notion, an inkling, of magic.
Up next on the radio was the NCAA Regional Final men’s hockey game between Wisconsin and Cornell, with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line. Although I didn’t know it then, the magic in the air was about to transform itself into magic on the ice, it would just take awhile.
The game began at four in the afternoon, and as the sun slowly set that evening, the teams were still playing. Finally, at 8:40 p.m., after more than two-and-a-half overtimes and not a single goal, Badgers’ play-by-play man Brian Posick’s voice erupted. Jack Skille had found the back of the net for Wisconsin, ending one of the longest games in postseason history and sending the Badgers to the Frozen Four for the first time in 16 years.
A little more than a week later while I was in northern Wisconsin, my uncle managed to drive us to the perfect spot just in time to pick up enough of a radio signal to hear Posick’s call of the final seconds of Wisconsin’s championship game victory. Once again it was the first time in 16 years, this time being the first national championship in 16 years for the school with the fourth-most championships in the history of college hockey.
Yes, Wisconsin was pretty darn good that year – it was one of the No. 1 seeds of that NCAA tournament and finished with a 31-10-3 record – but perhaps a bit of magic and luck played their way into the Badgers’ final destiny. Brian Elliot was superb in goal during the playoffs but one bad bounce against Cornell or a few inches in the final seconds of the championship game against Boston College could have separated the Badgers from their sixth national championship.
This year’s Wisconsin squad (19-12-7) isn’t at the same level of that 2006 championship team, but this is the first time the Badgers have moved on past the first round of the WCHA playoffs since they finished NCAA runner-up in 2010. And the one striking similarity, although perhaps coincidental, is that Wisconsin played, and won, an outdoor hockey game when it went to the national championship in 2006 and 2010. This year, Wisconsin faced and beat Minnesota 3-2 at the Hockey City Classic at Soldier Field.
So is there magic in the air again this postseason for Wisconsin? Well, players and fans alike certainly hope so. Heading into this weekend’s WCHA Final Five, Wisconsin is in a five-way tie for No. 16 in the PairWise rankings, which is among one of the best gauges of a team’s postseason chances.
In college hockey only 16 teams that make the field for the NCAA tournament, so Wisconsin is in a must-win situation Thursday night against Minnesota State, and most likely has to win two to stand a reasonable chance at getting an NCAA bid. If the Badgers beat the Mavericks they will face off against No. 1-seeded St. Cloud State, a tall but certainly doable task. A win against the Huskies would earn the Badgers the right to play in the championship game for the Broadmoor Trophy.
One thing Wisconsin will need for any amount of success is a hot goaltender, and a promising sign is the Badgers have that right now in Joel Rumpel. Currently, Rumpel is third in the league with 1.87 goals against average, and, like Elliot demonstrated in 2006, a hot player between the pipes can carry a team almost single-handedly through the postseason.
Whether a genie appears and grants Wisconsin three wins, or everything happens to come together this weekend in St. Paul, Minn., something is going to have to happen if the Badgers hope to continue their playoff run into the NCAA tournament.
I feel there is something special about this team, just like the 2006 national champions, and I don’t foresee the Badgers’ season ending this weekend. Only time will tell how long Wisconsin’s playoff road will stretch, but with spring on the way, hopefully some magic is as well.
Dan is a freshman intending to major in something, he just doesn’t know yet. Agree with him that the Badgers have a shot at making a deep run into March? Think Rumpel will crumple between the posts? Let him know by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.