MILWAUKEE — When Dany Heatley comes back to Wisconsin, the Badgers might have to make room for him in the lineup.
Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer was close to getting that line out without a smile.
Andy Wheeler’s not going to take Heatley’s spot, but on Saturday, he took his role.
Wheeler scored a pair of goals and was named the Bank One Badger Hockey Showdown’s Most Valuable Player as Wisconsin downed Boston University 3-2 in the championship game at the Bradley Center.
The junior forward made the game’s two signature plays, scoring shorthanded and power-play goals to give the Badgers the Pettit Cup for the seventh time in the 12-year history of the event.
“That kind of stuff just happens with more ice time and more confidence; they kind of go hand in hand,” Wheeler said. “I don’t want to say I just learned that, it’s just something that comes with character. The more you play, the more you get acclimated with the game.”
But the Badgers’ victory didn’t come without a fight, although it looked at times in the second period that it would. BU scored a pair of goals in the last 6 minutes, 40 seconds of the third period to cut Wisconsin’s lead to one.
But the Terriers (6-9-1) paid for sleepwalking through the second period when they couldn’t get the equalizer.
“We did kind of play desperate hockey because we needed to,” Terriers center Dan Cavanaugh said. “It seems like whenever we’re down in the third period we come out flying, but it’s a little too late.”
Wheeler and the Badgers (13-9) dominated the second period, outshooting the Terriers 18-8 and taking a three-goal lead.
Wheeler took advantage of a fortunate bounce while BU was on its third power play of the night and turned it into a breakaway goal at 10:43 of the second for a 1-0 lead.
After collecting the deflection of a slapshot attempt, Wheeler was alone with Terriers goaltender Jason Tapp (29 saves) from the center red line. Tapp stopped his first shot, but Wheeler poked home the rebound.
“He’s really grown up as a player this year,” Sauer said. “Not so much from the physical aspect of things, but mentally, he’s really played very smart.
“He thought it through and did a good job, and reacted in the right way.”
With the Badgers on their first power play, Wheeler tipped in a Alex Brooks shot from the middle of the blue line for a 3-0 Badgers lead at the 19-minute mark of the second.
“We were horrible in the second period,” said BU coach Jack Parker, whose team had its four-game winning streak snapped and lost for the first time at the Showdown after five wins. “Wisconsin really came at us in the second period and we couldn’t keep them off the scoreboard.”
Wheeler’s goals game around Dave Hergert’s fourth goal of the season, with just over six minutes left in the second. Tapp tried to kick out a Jon Krall shot, but Hergert got a stick on it between the shooter and the goal, redirecting the puck slowly through Tapp’s legs.
“We didn’t allow them to slow us down,” Sauer said. “We kept moving the puck is what we did; kept moving our players coming up the ice and we were able to break the trap.”
Wheeler helped give the Badgers a comfortable lead, but the Badgers’ defense helped almost completely give it away for the second night in a row.
The Badgers got into trouble with penalties in the third period — they were whistled for six — and were already shorthanded on the blue line after captain Jeff Dessner went out in the first period because of a bruised shoulder.
That led to a 19-4 shots advantage for BU in the third period, two BU goals and a handful of near misses.
Cavanaugh slammed home the rebound of Pat Aufiero’s shot to get the Terriers on the board at 14:20 of the third.
Thereafter, BU had three chances with a backdoor play designed to set Carl Corazzini up for a tap-in.
On the first two, Corazzini had trouble handling the puck. The second came while BU was on a four-on-three power play and had Tapp pulled for an extra attacker.
But the third time, Corazzini got the puck past Wisconsin goaltender Graham Melanson (38 saves) after a Mike Pandolfo cross-crease pass trickled to the left post, where Corazzini slammed it in with 2:11 remaining.
“I think their [defensemen] were getting a little tired because we had it in their zone for a long time,” Cavanaugh said. “They weren’t really using their legs, just using their sticks, and I think took advantage of that by trying to slide it across to the open guy and finally Corazzini put it in.”
But the Badgers’ defense didn’t allow any good chances with Tapp pulled again in the last minute and at the final horn, the Badgers looked more relieved than joyous.
“We had a chance to win it at the end,” Parker said. “We had a chance to stay close and jump on them, and that was nice too. The fact that we kept working and we outshot them 19-4 in the third and came at them pretty good were pretty good signs for us.”
With Heatley, Wisconsin’s leading scorer, playing with the Canadian team at the World Junior tournament in Russia, the Badgers knew they were going to have to scrap for any offense they could get.
It just happened that Wheeler was the scorer of the night.
“I don’t think winning without Dany Heatley was a huge surprise,” Wheeler said. “We knew we had it all along; it was whether or not it showed up.”