Badgers ready to battle Black Bears in Frozen Four

first_imgGREG SCHMITZ/Herald photoMILWAUKEE — “Have fun.”The Wisconsin men’s hockey team’s captain, Adam Burish, is the last person on earth to be described as short-winded when it comes to interviewing or leading the Badgers. But those two simple words were his message to the team heading into the Frozen Four, where they will begin play Thursday night.It seems peculiar in such a high-pressure situation, but that is the way the Wisconsin’s practice went Tuesday at the Shell in Madison and again Wednesday here at the Bradley Center.”This week’s quote [from Coach Mike Eaves] is ‘Just play,'” Burish said.Tuesday’s session ended with a light-hearted shootout between Burish and his senior classmates — forwards Nick Licari, A.J. Degenhardt and Ryan MacMurchy, and defenseman Tom Gilbert.The five goofed around cheerfully as the younger Badgers slapped their sticks on the ice in encouragement.But as the contest went down, there was one player who was not about to take things lightly. Junior goaltender Brian Elliott hasn’t allowed a puck by him in more than 252 straight minutes — a span dating back to March 17.Calmly, as the seniors took their shots, he turned all five of them away. He was not about to let his own teammates start feeling good about themselves.”I know where they are going before they do,” Elliott said.”He’s always stingy back there and always focused,” Burish said. “Actually, I got him good twice yesterday on breakaways, though, so I thought I’d give him one back today to make him feel good.”That was exactly the jocular attitude that has encompassed this team the past few days.But then again, Elliott has not been shy about saying what the Badger seniors mean to him and vice versa. After all, he has really only seen moderate success as a member of the UW squad, and he has those seniors to thank for that.This time around, however, moderate success does not exist.The Badgers’ juniors and seniors remember hurting after Maine knocked them out of the NCAA tournament in overtime two years ago. Moreover, they remember the looks on the faces of the three seniors that year — Rene Bourque, Dan Boeser and Andy Wozniewski.”When we came back, Coach had a big picture of Rene Bourque and Dan Boeser kneeled down next to each other,” Burish said. “I just remember that feeling in the dressing room.”You can bet that those faces will drive the older members of this year’s team Thursday — they do not want to wind up in the same position, especially considering they are the only No. 1 seed remaining among a triumvirate of No. 3s.The Badgers prevailed in a nearly never-ending goalie battle only 11 days ago, when Elliott outlasted Cornell’s David McKee in a 1-0 thriller. While nobody can say they expect another three-overtime battle, Thursday’s game against Maine may not be that much different.”We’re just going to focus on the stuff we do well,” Gilbert said. “I know Maine is a mirror image of us. They play hard, they’ve got great defense, and they’ve got great depth.”Once again, the two teams play similar styles. Along the same line, Maine does not boast an offensive superstar, though both teams do lay claim to special senior classes. And again, between the pipes will sit two solid goaltenders.Even though Elliott has two years of experience — albeit most of that came from behind the bench — he does not think he has an edge over the much-greener Ben Bishop.”Anything can give you a little edge at this point — it could be something you eat for lunch,” Elliott said. “He’s a big guy, so we’re just going to have to get our shots on net and get some rebounds.”Still, there will be a battle between the goalies: Elliott, who leads the nation in winning percentage, goals against average, save percentage and shutouts, and Bishop, a freshman who is 12th in goals against average and holds a .908 save percentage.Bishop also has another impressive number to bring with him, a daunting 6-foot-7 frame.But the Badgers will bring a hometown crowd.”We’re excited to be here in Milwaukee. … It’s special,” Burish said. “I don’t know that we feel any extra pressure; it’s excitement.”And playing a “home team” is nothing new to Maine. The Black Bears played against “home teams” in each of the last five years and are 3-4 in those matchups.”We’ve had a history of playing the home team in the NCAA tournament — we’re fine with that, and excited about the opportunity and the atmosphere that it’s going to bring to the game,” Maine captain Greg Moore said.Throw statistics out the window. The time is now, the pressure is on, and it is one-and-done.And it all comes back to fun.”It’s just been about playing and having fun,” Burish said. “In Green Bay, we were successful because we were loose. When we have that kind of atmosphere, we’ll be successful.”last_img

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