Badgers: Big win on bigger stage
MADISON, Wis. -- Some day, hockey fans in Michigan will grow to love Brendan Smith.
And some day they will get past what he did to them on Saturday night.
The University of Wisconsin junior defenseman -- who was a Detroit Red Wings first-round draft pick in 2007 -- scored a pair of power-play goals to turn a third-period 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 Badgers win over the University of Michigan at the Camp Randall Hockey Classic.
Smith's late-game heroics sent the crowd of 55,031, the second largest in college hockey history, out to celebrate into the streets of Wisconsin's capital city.
And it sent the Wolverines (16-13-1) back to Michigan to ponder the implications of their lost opportunity against Wisconsin. With just seven games left in the regular season, Red Berenson's club is very much in danger of snapping its 19-year streak of NCAA tournament appearances.
"If it weren't for the penalties that happened in the last five minutes we'd be sitting here talking about a victory," Berenson said. "But that didn't happen. We couldn't kill their power play and it was obvious.
"We knew pretty much what they were doing and they're good at it. And it's 5-on-4 so you really have to do a good job, and we didn't. They executed and it was as good as it gets. We were prepared and we just didn't do it."
Wisconsin (16-7-4) was prepared too, thanks to some timely adjustments to the power play and some timely help from referees Marco Hunt and Derek Shepherd, who gave the Badgers the man advantage not once but twice late in the game.
Badgers coach Mike Eaves figured out what Michigan was doing on the penalty kill and altered the UW attack accordingly.
"We talk about how a game is like trying to solve a riddle and you have to find the answer to the riddle," Eaves said. "We stayed with it and guys on the bench were saying the right things. It's not like they got quiet or they got down. We had good leadership on the bench. And then getting that second goal really elevated the energy because we were rewarded for our hard work. And then we got the next power play and basically ran the same play and executed."
What Michigan did was take away a passing lane to Wisconsin captain Blake Geoffrion. It made sense, considering the senior leads the Badgers with 18 goals, including 10 on the power play.
But the result of that decision left Smith, who came into the game with six power-play goals, lurking in the right faceoff circle and heading toward the slot -- not once but twice.
"We were able to go down to [Michael] Davies and he either had Blake back-door or me coming down the slot," Smith said. "It was up to [the Michigan] weakside forward to choose if he was going to go on me or Blake and he chose Blake twice which left me open and I was lucky to have that time to shoot."
Four years ago, Wisconsin used a victory in an outdoor game -- 4-2 over Ohio State in the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic at Lambeau Field -- as a springboard to a successful stretch run.
The only Badger to play in both games was captain Ben Street. He was a freshman in 2006 and recorded an assist in Wisconsin's win over the Buckeyes. Street didn't find the scoresheet Saturday night, but he didn't hesitate when asked which outdoor experience was better.
"I think this one is a little more special," Street said. "It was on campus, 'Jump Around' was so cool and then the way that we won it. To come back late, the crowd just kept getting fired up. We were cold but I think we had goose bumps because of how loud it was and because the way the game was going."
Wisconsin went on to win the national title four seasons ago and this team, which came into the game at No. 3 in the national PairWise rankings, is talented enough to be in the mix for this year's Frozen Four at Ford Field in April.
Should the Badgers find their way to college hockey's biggest stage in Detroit, they'll be able to draw upon their outdoor win over Michigan.
"It feels so good because it wasn't easy," Street said. "We had to work really hard for it. This is one of those games that will really help us further on in the year. It was a huge game on a huge stage and it's easy to get nervous and tense up at the end and we didn't. We came back and stayed with it and won.
"It's a huge lesson for all of us because winning a game like that is what it's going to take in the end and for us to get that done and know how that feels is big."
Just ask future Red Wing Brendan Smith.
David Albright covers college sports for ESPN.com and can be reached at email@example.com.
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