Progress often is measured in different ways by different viewers.
One might see Wisconsin’s two-goal output against Colgate on Sunday night and assume the Badgers haven’t made many strides away from the first-half team that lost 11 of its 16 games and scored only eight goals in its last nine games.
Another, however, might see the Badgers’ 27-second outburst in the first period and make the case that this is a team on the verge of an offensive epiphany.
What the 6,878 fans at the Bradley Center — the smallest crowd in the history of the tournament — saw in Wisconsin’s 2-1 victory over Colgate in the Bank One Badger Hockey Showdown semifinals probably was a little bit of both. The Badgers were held to two or fewer goals for the ninth straight time and 11th overall this season.
The difference against Colgate might have been the grit with which they held that lead. Colgate tried to get goaltender Steve Silverthorn (26 saves) off the ice for an extra attacker in the waning moments, but the Badgers held the puck in the Raiders’ zone for all but the last four seconds of the final minute.
Brian Fahey and Pete Talafous each scored his first goal of the season 27 seconds apart in the first period, giving the Badgers a 2-0 lead — all they would need.
“Everybody’s said all along that they see the progress within our team,” Wisconsin goaltender Bernd Bruckler said, “but the wins just weren’t there. This is a really good start to the second half of the season.”
The Badgers (6-11) snapped a six-game losing streak and will play No. 15 Northern Michigan in the championship game at 8:05 p.m. CST on Monday. Colgate (7-9-1) will play 12th-ranked Harvard for third place at 5:05 p.m. CST.
Wisconsin’s offense — the kind that made an impact on the scoreboard, anyway — came and went in a flash of the first period. First, it was the defenseman Fahey, the trailer in the middle on a rush who fired a wrist shot through a group of players in front of the net and past Silverthorn.
Then, Talafous, the former Alaska-Anchorage player who had gone 13 games without scoring for the Badgers, converting a rebound of a Ryan MacMurchy shot at the left of the net before most of the fans had even settled back in their seats.
At the time, it appeared the Badgers’ offense finally was finding a groove.
“You can’t make that turn too fast, though,” Fahey said. “Tonight was just one step. We had a good first period, toward the end of the game we played really well, really smart hockey. We started to slip there in the second period, and that’s something we still have to work out.”
Wisconsin’s quick burst was something the Raiders have seen too often this season, coach Don Vaughan said. He called his timeout to give his players a chance to regroup, which they did.
“We’re a team that’s had problems giving up quick goals. That happened again tonight,” Vaughan said. “It’s happened probably four times this year to us. We called a timeout, tried to get our guys focused again. I thought we did a good job.”
Joey Mormina got the Raiders back in the game with a 5-on-3 power-play goal with 18.3 seconds left in the first period. His blast from the left point snuck inside the left post for his second goal of the season.
It gave Colgate some needed momentum for the second period, in which it pressured the Badgers, especially late.
The Raiders had two power plays in the second period and two more in the third period, but couldn’t find the equalizer.
“Our power play kind of let us down, I thought,” Vaughan said. “I think the credit has to go the way they forced us on the penalty kill in the third.”
The game got chippy in the final period, when 11 of the 16 penalties called came on two scrums. On the first, Wisconsin’s Brad Winchester and Erik Jensen tangled with some players on the Colgate bench after Jensen hit Raiders defenseman J.R. Bria from behind.
Then, after the horn, Winchester and Rob Brown wrestled on the ice. No major penalties were called in either situation.
When asked how he thought the game’s chippiness started, Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said: “I don’t think I’m allowed to comment on that. You understand where I’m going with that?”
Eaves was asked whether that was intended as a remark on the officiating. “You can make any assumptions you’d like to,” he said.
The Badgers got back to the tournament’s championship game after missing it last season after a loss to Brown in the semifinals.
“Looking back to last year and not playing in the championship game, this is something guys have been thinking about for a year,” Fahey said. “This is our tournament and we need to be in that championship game every year.”