Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Thank You, 2007-08 Badgers!

I had intended to start this blog a little later in the off-season, but this weekend got me all fired-up about Badger Hockey, and I was a little distressed by some of the media coverage of this past weekend. So I decided to get the blog rolling today. And with my first "real" post (besides the obligatory introductory post), I'd like to say "thank you" to the 2007-08 men's and women's hockey teams.

The women's team finished 3rd in the WCHA regular season with a conference record of 20-5-3 and an overall record of 29-9-3. They finished 2nd in the WCHA Final Face-Off, and they finished 2nd in the NCAA tourney. Not too shabby. If this is what it means to struggle with inconsistency and youth, I'll take it. They were a joy to watch this season, and I wish I had been able to make it to more games. And, of course, my favorite Badger, Jinelle Zaugg, set a career scoring record for the Badgers this season. In her 4-year career with the Badgers, she scored 89 goals, surpassing the record of 84 goals previously held by Meghan Hunter. Zaugg also now holds the career record for game-winning goals with 22; Sara Bauer had 17. To the seniors #4 Mikka Nordby, #6 Emily Morris, #8 Jinelle Zaugg -- thank you for being Badgers, and best of luck in your future endeavors. To the players who will return next year, as well as next year's incoming freshman -- I look forward to another great year of Badger Hockey.

By the way, I am happy to say that 8 Badgers will be playing in the 2008 IIHF World Women's Championship from April 4-12, in Harbin, China. Current Badgers Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, Erika Lawler, and Jessie Vetter will play for Team USA, as will Badger Alums Molly Engstrom (2001-2005) and Kerry Weiland (1999-2003). Badger Alums Meaghan Mikkelson (2003-2007) and Carla MacLeod (2001-2005) will play for Team Canada.

The men's team had a pretty rough year. They finished 6th in the WCHA with a 11-12-5 conference record and a 16-17-7 overall record. They failed to reach the Final Five. They struggled with youth and inconsistency during the season, bouncing between flashes of brilliance and stretches of horrible play. But they secured an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, and dang, they made us Badger Fans proud this past weekend!

I have to admit, I went into the weekend with no expectations. I knew they were capable of playing well, but I just didn't know if they would be able to put it all together. So I thought they could do well and win, but I wouldn't have been surprised if they didn't. Especially since they had a history this season of showing up flat for big games. But they didn't show up flat. They worked hard for the entire weekend (121 minutes 47 seconds, no alibis, no regrets), and they played outstanding. They trounced Denver 6-2, and they dominated North Dakota for most of the game before losing 3-2 in overtime. I'm still trying to figure out how North Dakota won. (Please don't tell me. I don't really want to know. Personally, I'm blaming Lamoureux, who was absolutely fantastic in goal. Is he graduating this year? It seems like he's been around forever. I've been told that it's not really him anymore, that each year they grab a new kid and put him in Lammy's jersey.)

Anyway, after a rough season and almost missing the NCAA tourney, what the boys did this weekend was amazing, and I would like to salute them. Boys, you made us proud, and I hope you're proud of what you did this weekend. I haven't been this excited about Badger Hockey since Milwaukee in '06. (It's too bad that the off-season is now upon us. I'll have to try to carry over my enthusiasm until next season. Dang, I would've liked to watch the Badgers in Denver!)

I'm a little distressed about some media coverage of this past weekend. I specifically object to this:
SUN., MAR 30, 2008 - 10:33 PM

Five months into the season, when you can count the number of competitive lives you have remaining on one hand, it's awfully hard to change who you are.

Soft doesn't become edgy. Plodding doesn't become smooth. Unreliable doesn't become proficient. It just doesn't work that way.

The University of Wisconsin men's hockey team illustrated that point in distressing, excruciating fashion Sunday night at the Kohl Center. Third-seeded UW blew a two-goal lead in the third period and wound up enduring a 3-2 overtime loss to top-seeded North Dakota in the NCAA Midwest Regional championship game.

As well as this:
SUN., MAR 30, 2008 - 11:23 PM
Then an amazing thing happened. After they routed Denver in a regional semifinal Saturday and dominated North Dakota for all but a few minutes of regulation time in the final Sunday, the once-ugly Badgers started looking pretty good to you.

Just about the time you thought they had turned a corner, however, the Badgers showed for the umpteenth time this season they just couldn 't make it all the way around the bend. UW's 3-2 overtime loss to North Dakota was a microcosm of a season that just never got rolling.

I feel that the above excerpts imply that the Badgers lost the game due to inconsistency or due to self-destruction. But they worked hard and played well the entire weekend. Unfortunately, North Dakota regrouped after the 2nd period, and Lammy stood on his head. The Badgers did not self-destruct, and I'm irritated by the implication that they did. Honestly, I thought they showed they belonged in the tourney, and I thought they showed the fans what they were capable of doing. The Badgers made me proud this weekend, and I feel they deserved a bit better from the media.

Not surprisingly, I prefer Milewski's take on the weekend: "Are Badgers on cusp of greater things?". Because I think they are. This weekend I felt like the team found their identity. I wish they had found it earlier in the season, but I'm glad they found it, and I hope they carry it into next year. To the 2007-08 Badger Men: thanks for an exciting end to the season, and thanks for sticking with it despite all of the rough patches. To the seniors #4 Davis Drewiske (signed with LA), #6 Josh Engel, #18 Matt Ford (drafted by Chicago), and #20 Kyle Klubertanz (signed with Anaheim), and to Kyle Turris (signed with Phoenix), thank you for being Badgers, and best of luck in your future endeavors. To the players who will return next year, as well as next year's incoming freshman -- I look forward to another great year of Badger Hockey.