Badgers look to down Vermont in 1st round

first_imgView Gallery (2 Photos)On paper, it looks like a mismatch.Wisconsin, which owns a 25-10-4 record, is the No. 1 seed in the West Regional in St. Paul after spending most of 2010 ranked third in the nation. The Badgers’ opponent, the fourth-seeded Vermont Catamounts, are three games above .500, with a 17-14-7 mark.UW scores the second-most goals per game in the nation; UV is 32nd out of 58 teams. Wisconsin is in the top 13 in both power play and penalty kill; Vermont is 45th and 32nd, respectively. Two Badgers are among the 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, given to college hockey’s most outstanding player; the other eight finalists include zero Catamounts.It seems like Wisconsin should have no trouble winning its first game of the NCAA tournament, and the numbers back it up.But don’t expect the Badgers to take the game lightly.“First seed, four-seed… I look at their record, they’ve only got five or four more losses than we do. That’s not a big difference,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “Our belief as a coaching staff is any team can beat anybody because it’s one day, one-game and you’re in or out.“We have a huge amount of respect because they’re at this point of the season with us.”Despite its overall mediocrity, Vermont is one of the just 16 teams in the NCAA field. And now that the season has reached the “win-or-go-home” stage for every team, UW can’t afford to take the game lightly.Part of that is the Badgers’ own inconsistency. Despite losing just 10 games this season and being the only team in the nation not to lose consecutive games, Wisconsin has not put together more than a four-game winning streak.The Badgers came out flat against St. Cloud State in its semifinal at the WCHA Final Five last Friday and paid the price, falling 2-0 on an empty net goal and a brick-wall performance by Husky goaltender Mike Lee. UW didn’t look like it decided to start playing until the third period.The next day, Wisconsin trounced top-ranked Denver 6-3, taking a 3-0 first-period lead and chasing WCHA Player of the Year Marc Cheverie from goal just 11 minutes into the game.To put it lightly, the Badgers are aware of how important the way they start games is.“Like we said on Saturday, the key for us is just having a good start, keeping it simple,” sophomore center Derek Stepan said. “That would be our focus, coming into playing a team we haven’t played before.”“The few times that we’ve played poorly this year, it’s been because we haven’t gotten a good start, so that’s major for us,” senior tri-captain Ben Street added.How UW starts tends to outweigh how the Badgers finish. Wisconsin is 16-2-1 when scoring first and just over .500 when allowing opponents to score first (9-8-3). The Badgers are 23-0-2 when leading after two periods and winless when trailing going into the third (0-9-2).Yet, despite UW’s apparent inability to come back late in games, the Badgers outscored their opponents 53-39 in the last frame. The catch is that most of those goals came when Wisconsin was already ahead.With the memory of being defeated by a hot goaltender fresh in the team’s mind and Eaves noting that Vermont leans on goaltender Rob Madore, Street said the Badgers know they can’t afford to fall behind early.“Vermont, they’re defensively minded, from what we’ve seen. I think the last couple games they won, it was 1-0,” he said. “If they get out to an early lead on us, it’s going to be tough to come back.”Eaves noted last Friday that playing an afternoon game may have taken the team out of its rhythm a bit, but the Badgers get the luxury of an 8 p.m. game Friday. St. Cloud State, on the other hand, will face Northern Michigan at 4:30 p.m. in the early game.Wisconsin also gets an advantage in travel — it’s just a quick bus ride up I-94 to St. Paul, while Vermont will likely fly the 950-plus miles from Burlington.Despite essentially playing in their own backyard, the Badgers were divided on the advantages of being in the Twin Cities.“It’s closer, obviously, but every team in the tournament is pretty good, so you’ve got to focus on every game,” sophomore defenseman Jake Gardiner said.Stepan echoed the sentiment, adding that in the end, it’s just another hockey game — albeit an important one.“At this point, everyone’s going to be good, so you’ve got to prepare for the best,” he said. “You look at video, you find their tendencies and all that, you just gotta go out and play — it’s still a game.”last_img

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