Around the world in sports

MILWAUKEE (KRT) – The journey to the top of their mythical mountain is complete.

The dream is realized, precisely as Mike Eaves and his players had envisioned all along.

The championship drought, which had lasted 15 frustrating seasons, no longer will be a burden for the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey program.

With defenseman Tom Gilbert blasting in the go-ahead, power-play goal midway through the final period and goaltender Brian Elliott displaying his All-American form the rest of the way, in addition to getting an assist from his left post with less than 2 seconds left, the Badgers rallied for a gripping 2-1 victory over Boston College on Saturday night at the Bradley Center to win their sixth NCAA title.

For the first time since 1990, Madison (30-10-3) can claim to be the best team in America, and 17,758 fans, almost all wearing red and white, were on hand to witness the Badgers’ return to glory.

“We’re flying,” said Gilbert, who took a pass from center Joe Pavelski and ripped a slap shot from the slot to beat Boston College goaltender Cory Schneider at nine minutes 32 seconds of the final period. “We’re on that (mountain) peak and we just jumped off. It is the best feeling.

Me being a senior, the last game in my career.

This is the best group of guys. The best university. The best fans in college hockey. The best coaching staff. It’s a dream come true,” Gilbert said.

And a nightmarish finish for Boston College (26-13-3).

The game appeared over when Boston College defenseman Peter Harrold took a foolish boarding penalty with 3:28 left. But the Eagles killed off the power play, Madison’s eighth of the game, and Harrold then came within inches of tying the score with less than 2 seconds left.

With Schneider off for an extra skater, the Badgers scrambling in their zone and the crowd counting down the final seconds, Harrold flipped the puck at the net from the face-off circle on the left wing.

“At that point,” Harrold said, “you just have to get the puck on net. You throw it at the net and hope for something to happen.”

What happened is that the puck sneaked through traffic past Elliott and hit the far post with 1.7 seconds left. With Elliott scrambling to his feet and the referee waving his arms back and forth emphatically to signal no goal, the puck bounced back out, grazed the left skate of Elliott and went up the ice as time expired.

“I knew I had the short side and all they had was the far side,” said Elliott, who finished with 22 saves and shut the Eagles out for the final 50:59. “Hopefully if it was any closer I would have gotten a pad on it. But posts are your best friends and I got one tonight.”

Within seconds Elliott disappeared under his teammates as the victory celebration, something the Madison program hadn’t enjoyed since 1990, took over the Madison zone.

“It is hard to put into words the spectrum of the journey we’ve had here,” said Eaves, who led Madison to a national title as a player in 1977. “We were talking at the beginning of the year about how things laid out. We had a chance to be in Green Bay for the regional and then come to Milwaukee and all the twists and turns it took to get here.

But the one thing the guys kept saying on the bench is be patiently persistent. In a close game where you don’t get rewarded with goals you have to be patiently persistent.
These young men stayed with it.”

Senior captain Adam Burish fed the puck down low to Pavelski, who was stationed to the right of Schneider near the bottom of the face-off circle. Pavelski slid a perfect pass to the high slot, where Gilbert had drifted down. Gilbert, who had five power-play goals entering the title game, ripped a shot high to the short side and Schneider couldn’t touch it.

The Bradley Center crowd exploded as the Madison players enveloped Gilbert, and the noise level rose again when the image of Madison athletic director Barry Alvarez appeared on the JumboTron above the ice.

“I was thinking to myself I’m not going to strike out three times,” Gilbert said. “Joe Pavelski made a great pass and I just buried my head. I knew the puck was going to go in. I can’t describe how I feel.”

The euphoria Gilbert and his teammates felt might have been despair if not for the work of Madison’s top line in the second period.

The Badgers trailed, 1-0, when winger Robbie Earl was drilled by Boston College forward Chris Collins at center ice. Earl got up slowly, his left shoulder aching, and appeared ready to head to the Badger bench.

When he saw Pavelski had stolen the puck and slid it into the Eagles’ zone along the right-wing boards, Earl skated toward the net. Burish fired the puck toward the net and Earl fought off the check of defenseman Mike Brennan and one-timed the puck into the back of the net.

“I was heading off to the bench,” Earl said. “The turnover went the other way and I decided to take a chance. I went to the net and it was a great pass by Adam Burish. That is the story of this year. Just hard work and go to the net.”