Commentary

Frozen Final pits speed vs. strength

Similarities striking in BC-Wisconsin matchup

Updated: April 10, 2010, 3:33 PM ET
By David Albright | ESPN.com

DETROIT -- The similarities are striking.

Both schools have 28 wins this season. Both are No. 1 seeds. Both played in outdoor games this season. And both schools scored a weekend's worth of goals in Thursday's national semifinals wins.

So when Boston College (28-10-3) and Wisconsin (28-10-4) face off Saturday night at Ford Field (7 p.m. ET, ESPN HD/ESPN3.com) to decide this season's NCAA men's hockey champion, the Eagles and the Badgers will be near mirror images.

"They've got a lot of speed and a lot of skill and if you give them a lot of room to work with they'll take advantage of it," Wisconsin defenseman and captain Ryan McDonagh said. "We'll be able to [watch video] of their goals and see what they did to put themselves in that position. And if anything try to learn from what Miami didn't really execute as well as they wanted to and hopefully not make the same mistakes."

Ben Smith
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioBoston College lost to Wisconsin in the 2006 final. Can the Eagles win this time around?

Whether it was Miami making mistakes or BC imposing its will in Thursday's 7-1 win over the RedHawks, the Eagles are on quite a roll with a 12-game unbeaten streak (11-0-1).

Wisconsin, which comes in on a four-game winning streak, also was impressive in its 8-1 victory over RIT on Thursday.

"They've scored a ton of goals but we have too so it should be a great game," BC goaltender John Muse said. "I think with the speed it's going to have an exciting, fast pace so I think it will be great for our game."

One noticeable difference between the clubs is what each likes to do with the puck.

BC prefers puck movement -- "Guys with sticky tape have trouble playing here," coach Jerry York says -- while Wisconsin likes to play keep away with puck possession.

A big feature of the Badgers' game is their defensive corps, which is made up of five NHL draft picks (three first-rounders and two second-rounders) and John Ramage -- son of 15-year NHL veteran Rob Ramage.

"The strength of their team is in the defense," York said. "They're big, they're physical and they handle pucks extremely well. We've got to limit their input in their offense.

"I don't know if I've seen a defense that deep and that talented in college hockey in the span of my career."

That's saying a lot, considering York is the current wins leader in college hockey with 849 over his 38-year career.

Wisconsin's D is led by Hobey Baker finalist and Red Wings first-round pick Brendan Smith (15 goals-37 assists-52 points).

"We are very similar but they work off their speed and we work off our strength and our size," Smith said. "So to be successful, I think we are going to have to dig deep and do what we do best and get the puck in the corners."

The Badgers also would do well to get as much traffic in front of Muse as they did against RIT's Jared DeMichiel on Thursday.

Muse may be 7-0 in NCAA play, which includes backstopping the Eagles' 2008 title when he was just a freshman, but he had major offseason hip surgery and just two games ago the Eagles allowed seven goals against Yale in the Northeast Regional final (a 9-7 BC win).

BC is 11-9 all-time against Wisconsin, including 1-2 in NCAA play. The last meeting was the season-opener in 2008 when the Eagles beat the Badgers 5-4 in Mass. -- on a night when BC raised its third championship banner prior to the puck drop.

But playing in a championship game is a unique experience and each one is different. Emotions run higher, so trying to keep them in check will be key for both clubs.

That said, will the players try to convince themselves it's just another game?

"I don't know if you can," McDonagh said. "This is the national championship. If you're not jacked up to play in this game something's wrong with you. Our guys will have a lot of energy for sure, so our guys just need to stay composed out there and make sure we're playing our systems."

[+] EnlargeJerry York
David Albright/ESPN.com BC coach Jerry York put his club through its final practice of the season on Friday at Ford Field.

Saturday night's title game is a rematch of the 2006 championship, won 2-1 by Wisconsin but not decided until a final BC flurry was turned aside by a shot that hit the post in the last seconds.

Wisconsin captain Ben Street, who has mostly fond memories of that night in Milwaukee, is the only returning player from that game.

"I remember the puck hitting the post with a second left," Street said. "And I remember the last 10 seconds feeling like it took a year. I just remember the feeling afterwards of winning your last game and being able to say that you accomplished what you worked for all year."

The four seniors who will dress for BC on Saturday night come in with 100 career wins, a 24-2 playoff-game record and a 1-1 mark in national title games in their four years at The Heights.

But BC, despite playing in its fourth championship game in the past five years, has only seven current players who experienced the 2008 title. For the rest, playing on the final day of the college hockey season is a new experience.

"It's going to be the small things that determine the outcome of the game -- a big save by John [Muse] or maybe a key block by one of our defensemen," York said. "There's not going to be a lot separating the two teams."

And the similarities will stop on Saturday night when only one team leaves town as the national champion.

David Albright covers college sports for ESPN.com and can be reached at espncaa@gmail.com.