Badgers, BC look to leave mark on championship


MILWAUKEE -- The final walk.

On the way to the Bradley Center before their national semifinal game, the Wisconsin players talked about making sure they would be able to take one more journey up North 4th Street, through their adoring fans, from the team hotel to the rink on Saturday night.

When they do so prior to facing Boston College in the NCAA hockey national championship game (7 p.m. ET, ESPN), the Badgers, clad in their red hockey warm ups, will once again pass by the Wisconsin Athletic Walk of Fame.

It's adjacent to the old Milwaukee Arena, and it honors the state's foremost athletic heroes, with plaques commemorating the likes of Henry Aaron, Vince Lombardi, Al McGuire and Oscar Robertson.

Hockey's only representatives on the Walk of Fame are Bob and Mark Johnson -- Badger hockey royalty if there ever was such a thing. Badger Bob coached Wisconsin to three national titles (1973, 1977 and 1981), and his son Mark -- a star on the 1980 Miracle on Ice team -- played as a freshman on the '77 UW team.

So, too, did current Badger coach Mike Eaves, who assisted on the overtime game-winner for that national championship.

With a win on Saturday night, which would be Wisconsin's sixth all-time title, this current group of Badgers could make a case for enshrinement on one of the concrete columns that sit outside of the east wall of the venerable old building with the new corporate name (U.S. Cellular Arena).

Standing in their way is a team that just one month ago, no one envisioned would be playing on the final night of the college hockey season.

Boston College (26-12-3), which has two national titles, finds itself in this position because it caught fire just at the right time and has found the right mix of goaltending, special teams and offense beyond leading scorers Chris Collins (34 goals, 29 assists, 63 points) and Brian Boyle (22-30-52).

"I think we're much more balanced, and that makes us a much more dangerous team," BC coach Jerry York said. "During the course of the year, Brian could score and Chris could score. But from there, we were just trying to manufacture some offense. I think with a little more creativity and a little more poise, we're becoming much more dangerous to play because you can't just shut down one or two players."

In Thursday's semifinal 6-5 win over North Dakota, Collins, a Hobey Baker finalist, scored a hat trick, but the other three goals came from three freshmen.

The biggest question marks for the Eagles appear to be the health of senior captain Peter Harrold and the team's ability to deal with a home-state crowd that will be awash in Badger red.

Harrold, the lone upperclassmen on a defensive corps that also features four freshmen and one sophomore, participated in Friday's practice and proclaimed himself ready to go for tomorrow's game.

"We've had red and white fans screaming at us before. We need to use it and feed off the energy, because it's going to be an electric building and unbelievable to play in. We've just got to keep a level head and not let the highs get too high or the lows get too low in such a big game, because then emotions come into it and you do stuff you don't want to do."
Boston College center Brian Boyle

And Boyle had an answer for the other issue at hand.

"We've had red and white fans screaming at us before," Boyle said, in reference to BC's never-ending rivalry with Boston University. "We need to use it and feed off the energy, because it's going to be an electric building and unbelievable to play in.

"We've just got to keep a level head and not let the highs get too high or the lows get too low in such a big game, because then emotions come into it and you do stuff you don't want to do."

Beyond going against a sea of red in the stands, the BC players see a lot of similarities between their Green Line rivals and Wisconsin (29-10-3).

"I think the physical presence that they'll bring to the game is similar to BU," Harrold said. "They roll four talented lines and they're going to get all over you. We're used to that and we've played against it. We expect an absolute war from them and we're ready for it."

The key players that BC will be trying to shut down include first-line forwards Joe Pavelski (23-31-54) and Robbie Earl (23-36-49). But just as the Eagles got some offense from unexpected places in the lineup, the Badgers' point production can also come from anywhere on the roster. Third-liners Ross Carlson and Ben Street scored Thursday night, and linemate Jack Skille ended the marathon Midwest Regional final with a goal in the third overtime to send Wisconsin to the Frozen Four.

On the other side, the Badgers coaches and players see similarities between BC and one of their hated rivals.

"When you're getting to play this type of game, you have to play to your strengths," Eaves said. "And I think you have to be cognizant of what the strengths are of your opponent. If I was to equate Boston College to teams in our league, I would say they are very similar to Minnesota and [Colorado College] with their skill [and] speed, and they love the transition game."

For the record, the Badgers went 3-2 against Minnesota and 3-0-1 against CC this season, although the two losses to the Gophers were when goalie Brian Elliott was sidelined with a leg injury in late January.

Elliot, a Hobey Baker finalist, is back to full strength and has been the Badgers' best player in the NCAA Tournament. On the season, he's 26-5-3 with a 1.57 goals against average and a .938 save percentage, but his tourney numbers are even gaudier at 3-0, 0.52 and .978.

His counterpart in the BC net, Cory Schneider, played well enough to win Thursday afternoon, but he will have to be better if the Eagles are going to survive the atmosphere and the Badgers on Saturday night.

Schneider is clearly capable of doing so. This season he has a school-record eight shutouts -- including back-to-back efforts against Miami and BU to open the NCAA Tournament.

And he's no stranger to the big stage, as the sophomore was the Team USA goalie at this year's World Junior Tournament in Vancouver where he went 2-3-1 (2.67, .912) on a team that finished fourth in the tournament.

"We match up pretty well with Wisconsin," York said. "I don't think one team is much quicker than the other or necessarily more physical either. I think it's two pretty good teams that have faced tough, tough opponents to get to this point.

"We are much more similar than dissimilar."

Each team will have a similar final walk to the rink Saturday night. But the crowd at the Bradley Center will have a very one-sided interest in the outcome.

David Albright is the senior coordinator for college sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at david.albright@espn3.com.