Wednesday, February 25, 2009

So much for the favorable 2nd half schedule

When sitting around the Christmas tree this year, there might have been a Badger fan somewhere who looked at their 2nd half schedule and saw good things coming for the Wisconsin Men’s Hockey team. The Badgers were currently riding a high going 9-1-1 in their past 11 games after starting 0-6-1. Things looked really bright, Wisconsin was going to play 12 of their last 18 games at home. Sure those WCHA opponents who were visiting the Kohl Center weren’t going to be easy, but they were going to be played at home!

Well let’s fast forward two months, and things have not turned out the way anyone thought they would. W/ four games left in the regular season, instead of having cemented their place in the NCAA tourney and fighting for the MacNaughton Cup, the Badgers are fighting for an NCAA berth and hoping to hold on for 1st round home ice. Playing not to lose even in the standings?

At home in the 2nd half of the season, the Badgers are a pathetic 3-6-1. What’s even funnier is that the Badgers are 4-0 on the road, and those two road series were not the easiest in the WCHA for different reasons. In January, the Badgers flew to Alaska for a series w/ the Seawolves. While UAA is not a top team in the WCHA, the long trip and time zone change is not an easy adjustment, especially to come away w/ a sweep. In February, the Badgers traveled to Mariucci and pulled off an improbable sweep of the gophers. Sure Wangas sucks, but this is a real accomplishment.

The home schedule has not included the same amount of smiles and good cheer, so let’s review where things went wrong.

Dec 27th vs Alabama Huntsville in the Showdown – The Badgers dominate play all night, including a record low shots allowed during a game (10). 6th win in a row for the team.

Dec 28th vs Lake Superior State in the Showdown Final – The Lakers came to play, winning puck battles and regularly out hustling the Badgers all game. The Lakers score late in the 3rd and are answered by a soft John Mitchell goal. The game ends in a tie, and based on their lax play, the Badgers really didn’t deserve the win anyway.

Jan 2nd vs N. Michigan – Just like last Sunday, Northern comes to play and the Badgers don’t. In the end, Northern steals a win as the Badgers can’t muster enough offense to offset Northern’s hard play.

Jan 3rd vs N. Michigan – Do I really need to rehash this disaster? 3 goal lead lost in last ten minutes, lose in OT. A great example of Wisconsin’s unsuccessful tenancy to play not to lose late in the game, not the last time we’ll see this.

Jan 16th vs CC – Badgers crush the Tigers.

Jan 17th vs CC - The Badgers are the better team most of the night except for a two minute stretch in the 2nd where they give up three goals. W/ the score tied in the 3rd, Wisconsin again plays not to lose and we all remember what the result was right?

Jan 30th vs Duluth – Stalock sucks, Badgers win!

Jan 31th vs Duluth – The good times on Saturday night at the KC continue. Gorowsky misses an open net in the 1st, but he wasn’t the only one who didn’t finish a scoring chance. Stalock was luckier than good, Duluth scores late, the Badgers can’t answer. In the 3rd, it again appeared they playing not to lose since they lost all confidence to score. On top of that, no one can finish by the net, which I then realize has been a reoccurring problem all season.

Feb 20th vs Denver – The Badgers play their best 10 minutes of the season to start the game, but again can’t finish and only snag a 2 goal lead. It should have been 5-0 by this point. It goes back and forth though the Badgers take the lead in the 3rd. Several blown chances at the empty net and a poor clearing attempt; hey what to know the game is tied! Denver led only once in the game, when they scored 45 or so seconds into OT.

Feb 21st vs Denver – One of the most pathetic displays fans have ever seen by the Badgers. They got down early and that never stopped. Has shots on goal ever been more misleading in a game? Patrick Wierdcock gets the better of the Badger top blue liners again, much to my disappointment. Denver’s nine fans (who weren’t parents) celebrate at the Badgerland after the game.

There isn’t much more to say. Wisconsin had the most favorable 2nd half schedule any team in the WCHA could have asked for. Now here they sit, four games left. Mankato has not been an easy place to play for the Badgers, though based on their road success this half of the season, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them sweep. The Badgers have split the last two series at home w/ North Dakota, but both of those were early in the past two seasons when the Sioux don’t quite have it together. They are hot right now, I thought the Badgers would be too after the gopher sweep, but it appears Denver again was kryptonite at the Kohl Center.

What really angers me is that looking back over those home games, realistically there is no reason the Badgers couldn't be 10-0-0. I think even DU fans would agree had the Badgers not had their heart ripped out on friday, the saturday game would have been completely different. As for the five other losses and the tie, there is no reason the Badgers shouldn't have won most if not all of those games. They were the better team, but between lack of hustle, not finishing scoring chances and most importantly playing not to lose late in the game instead of playing to win, the team is 3-6-1.

The team has to know everything is on the line again this weekend. Sad thing is, since the N. Michigan series’ failures, everything has been on the line. How many times can it be brought up before the team actually believes it and starts showing that attitude on the ice?

60 minutes, no alibis, no regrets; is this the weekend the team plays to win every shift?