The Wisconsin Badgers men's hockey team advanced to the Frozen Four for the first time since their national championship season in 2006 on Saturday night, beating WCHA rival St Cloud State at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota by a score of 5-3.
The Badgers now head to Ford Field in Detroit for a Frozen Four matchup with the upset-minded RIT Tigers on April 8 for a berth in the national title game.
Coming into last nights matchup the Badgers were 1-2 versus the St. Cloud Huskies on the season, most recently losing 2-0 at the WCHA Final Five tournament last weekend at the Xcel Center. In that game it could be argued that the Badgers would have won had it not been for the stellar play of St. Cloud freshman goaltender, Mike Lee.
With Lee again in goal the two teams took to the ice in a rematch that would determine the winner of the West Regional, and who would advance to the Frozen Four in Detroit.
The Badgers opened the scoring 2:31 into the game when senior forward John Mitchell tipped a pass from fellow senior Andy Bombach past Lee.
The Badgers would strike again at the 13:18 mark of the period when senior captain, and Hobey Baker finalist, Blake Geoffrion put home a rebound off a Ryan McDonagh shot to put Wisconsin up a pair.
The Huskies would respond though as just over a minute and a half later when sophomore Jared Festler found the puck in front of the net and put it by Wisconsin goalie Scott Gudmanson to cut the deficit in half.
It wouldn't take long for the Badgers to regain their two goal lead as 33 seconds later, Badger sophomore defenseman Jake Gardiner was able to score on another big rebound given up by Mike Lee.
That third goal proved to be the end to Mike Lee's night as he was replaced by junior Dan Dunn between the pipes.
The two teams would battle through a scoreless second period, with each team having to kill off a multitude of penalties. The Badgers outshot the Huskies 32-20 through two periods, and had it not been for the stellar play of goalie Dan Dunn in relief of Mike Lee, the game may have been well out of hand heading into the third period.
In that third period it was the Huskies that were able to strike first. Four minutes in, Festler was again able to beat Gudmanson, shorthanded, to trim the deficit to one.
The Badgers would respond just under three minutes later when John Mitchell netted his second of the game when he was able to flip the puck over Dunn's shoulder on the right post, to regain Wisconsin's two goal cushion.
St. Cloud wasn't ready to quit however. With just under three minutes left in the game, and Dunn pulled for the extra attacker, Husky junior forward Tony Mosey beat Gudmanson to again pull St. Cloud within one.
But the Badgers would seal the deal with just over a minute left in the game when senior forward Aaron Bendickson found the empty net, and secured the win, and a frozen four berth for the Wisconsin Badgers.
Wisconsin killed off all seven power play chances that St. Cloud had during the game, and for all three goals the Huskies scored, Wisconsin was able to respond with one of their own in no less than two and a half minutes. Both of these feats were key in winning this game.
After the game the All West Regional team was announced which included Wisconsin's goalie Scott Gudmanson, defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Brendan Smith, and forward Blake Geoffrion, who was named the most valuable player of the West Regional.
From here Wisconsin plays the Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers in the Frozen Four. This will be the first ever meeting for the two programs.
Michigan will play top ranked Miami (OH) and Boston College will play Yale today for the final two Frozen Four berths.