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Men’s hockey team finishes a dream season with championship

April 19, 2006

Paul Capobianco

If you took Hollywood’s brightest scriptwriters and turned them loose on college hockey, they would have failed in creating a more storybook storyline for the 2005–06 UW men’s ice hockey season.

The longest season in school history, spanning more than six months, began at the Kohl Center on Oct. 1 with the first practice. Less than a week later, Madison native Jack Skille would score the game-winning goal in a 3–2 overtime victory over St. Lawrence in the season opener. More than six months later, on April 8, the Badgers would capture their sixth NCAA championship.

Photo of head coach Mike Eaves

Spotlights shine as head coach Mike Eaves is introduced before thousands of fans gathered at the Kohl Center on April 9 to celebrate the Wisconsin men’s hockey team’s win at the NCAA Frozen Four championship. Eaves later was named coach of the 2006 U.S. men’s national team.

Photo: Jeff Miller

In between, Wisconsin jumped out of the gate with an 18–2–2 record, posted a national-best 14-game unbeaten streak, skated seven straight weeks ranked No. 1 in the polls and won the Badger Hockey Showdown. Those were just some of the accomplishments during the first half of the season.

Following a 9–1 victory at No. 5 Colorado College on Jan. 14, the Badgers appeared set to cruise to their sixth NCAA title. But the following week in practice, Hobey Baker Award finalist Brian Elliott, the junior goaltender who backboned the team all year, went down with a leg injury.

With an 18–2–2 record, including a 9–0–1 record against ranked opponents, the Badgers proceeded to drop their next four games and five of the next six contests. In all, the Badgers would go 3–5––0 without Elliott in the lineup and would survive an 11-game stretch of 3–7–1 hockey. However, a wake-up call on a trip to Minnesota State in Mankato that included 6–4 and 7–3 losses to the Mavericks inspired a closed-door players-only meeting in the locker room and helped refocus the team.

The results? Nine wins in the final 10 games and an NCAA title.

Photo of Brian Elliott in goal against Boston College

Brian Elliott guards the goal as the Wisconsin men’s hockey team plays Boston College during the NCAA Frozen Four championship game April 8 at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. Elliott made 22 saves as the Badgers went on to win the game, 2–1, clinching their first NCAA championship title since 1990. Earlier in the month, Inside College Hockey named Elliott 2005–06 Goaltender of the Year.

Photo: Jeff Miller

Second-half highlights begin with the first ice hockey game outdoors at Lambeau Field as Wisconsin defeated Ohio State in the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic on Feb. 11 in front of almost 41,000 people. Highlights also included Elliott, Tom Gilbert and Joe Pavelski earning All-America honors, Elliott reaching the final three for the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s top player and head coach Mike Eaves finishing as runner-up for the Spencer Penrose Award as the national coach of the year.

Photo of Joe Pavelski with the trophy

With the trophy in hand, player Joe Pavelski celebrates by skating around the arena.

Photo: Jeff Miller

Freshman Skille’s triple overtime game-winning goal against Cornell at the NCAA Midwest Regional Final at the Resch Center in Green Bay sent the Badgers to the Frozen Four and will go down as one of the most memorable goals in Wisconsin hockey history — as will Gilbert’s third-period power-play goal against Boston College that won Wisconsin the national title.

A five-member senior class, which remembers a 13-win season during its first year at Wisconsin, helped lead the way, with captain Adam Burish earning NCAA Frozen Four all-tournament team honors and assistant captain Gilbert joining him on the sqaud. Dynamic forward Robbie Earl’s three-goal, one-assist Frozen Four catapulted him into Frozen Four most outstanding player honors.

Five seniors depart this year, and an underclassman or two may leave for the NHL, but the Wisconsin men’s hockey program appears entrenched in its winning ways.