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Wisconsin pressured early, made the most of second-period power plays and spread the goals around in an 8-1 win over RIT in Thursday’s first Frozen Four semifinal game at Ford Field, giving the Badgers the chance to play for their seventh NCAA championship on Saturday night.
“It was one of our emphasis to get off to a great start, and we wanted to take time and space away as quickly as we could just to see how they would handle it,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “And we did what we needed to do, and we were able to get that early lead. And the power play put us, separated the gap a little bit. But getting that good start was paramount for us.”
Related link: Video: Locker Room Reaction
John Mitchell’s goal at 1:27, on a rebound from Cody Goloubef, seemed inevitable after UW controlled the play from the opening drop of the puck. Stepan’s first goal of the night was a tip-in of Ryan McDonagh’s shot from the point at 9:38, giving the Badgers a 2-0 lead that held through the first period.
RIT coach Wayne Wilson said that the early UW lead was a “changing point” in the game. “And then, just the power plays in the second period,” said Wilson. “They have a tremendous power play. We knew that going in. And we didn’t want to give them those opportunities.”
The Badgers netted four straight goals in the second before RIT’s Tyler Brenner scored for the Tigers at 19:32. The last three UW goals in the second were with the man advantage, the last two with two Tigers in the penalty box.
“The penalties we took, took us right back out of it,” said Wilson. “And then particularly in the second period, you know, they just started scoring goals and reviewing — it just was a slow, methodical period, and we didn’t get anything going whatsoever.”
Jordy Murray scored at 2:18 and Justin Schultz at 4:26 to give the Badgers a 4-0 lead before Wisconsin had two nearly consecutive stretches of a two-man advantage. During Tigers forward Mark Cornacchia’s five-minute major penalty for hitting from behind at 10:26 — a penalty for which he was also given a game misconduct — the Badgers scored twice, first with Tyler Mazzei also in the box for roughing, and then with Taylor McReynolds out for tripping.
Michael Davies’ tic-tac-toe goal at 11:15 made it 5-0, and Blake Geoffrion scored at 13:24 on a rebound of Brendan Smith’s shot from the circle to give UW (28-10-4) a 6-0 lead.
Mitchell said that creating traffic in front of the Tigers net was essential to the win. “Our forwards take [Jared] DeMichiel’s eyes away,” he said. “He’s been hot.”
Toward the end of the third period, Wilson pulled DeMichiel to allow freshman Shane Madolora and junior Jan Ropponen a little time in net. Madolora gave up one goal to Craig Smith at 17:28; Ropponen let in Stepan’s at 17:48.
“I almost felt bad, but I got both my other goalies in the game as well,” said Wilson. “Unfortunately, they were on the score sheet. I put them in a tough situation. I want them to experience it. You never know when you’re going to get back here. So I wanted them to enjoy that.”
The Tigers finish their season 28-12-1; this was their first trip to the NCAA tournament.
“There’s no such thing as an easy win,” said Eaves. “And you can speculate and look at paper and do all that. But you’ve got to go out and perform. And I think our kids did a tremendous job of sticking to the game plan and focusing on what we needed to do to win this game here.”