GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — No one player makes a team. Dany Heatley, though, could be the next best thing.
With a goal destined for the highlight reels and an assist on Saturday, the Wisconsin sophomore led the Badgers to a 4-1 victory over Providence in the first round of the NCAA tournament’s West Regional at Van Andel Arena.
The Badgers will play top-seeded Michigan State on Sunday for a berth in the Frozen Four.
If Heatley’s goal was big, his assist was crucial. He was credited with the first assist on Matt Hussey’s goal just 1 minute, 42 seconds into the first period, giving the Badgers an early lead.
But it was Heatley’s second-period goal, which gave the Badgers a 2-0 lead, that showed why his days in college hockey may be numbered. He’s expected to leave school for the NHL when the season is over, and his moves around the Providence defense and goaltender Nolan Schaefer showed he has the talent to make the jump.
“He’s going to score those goals if you give it to him,” Providence senior defenseman Matt Libby said.
Heatley skated off the right boards with the puck, off a feed from Kent Davyduke, sent a Friars defender to the ice as he blew past him, and did the same to Schaefer. Heatley put a pair of moves on the goaltender — one to get him down and one to freeze him.
When he did so, he tucked the puck into an empty net.
“It was kind of a broken play,” said Heatley, who has 57 points, 18 in the last seven games. “Kent made a great play up top.”
As he suggested, Heatley had plenty of help, not only on the play but in orchestrating the victory.
In winning a NCAA game for the first time since 1995 and beating a Hockey East team in the tournament for the first time since 1992, the Badgers helped dispel the well-known kick that they are just a Dany Heatley team.
Heatley figured in the first two goals, but UW put the game away with the third and fourth goals, scored by Matt Murray and Andy Wheeler.
“Everybody seems to key on one or two people,” Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer said. “Everybody expects Dany to score, and maybe sometimes during the year we took him for granted. The big thing is other people have contributed as well.
“That’s how you win hockey games. No guy is bigger than the team, and we’re showing that now.”
The forgotten part of the mix for the Badgers (22-14-4) was Graham Melanson. The senior goaltender made 32 saves, 13 in the third period, and continually frustrated the Friars (22-13-5).
Adam Lee was the only Providence player to get the puck past Melanson, scoring with just over a minute left in the second period to cut the Badgers’ lead to 3-1.
Otherwise, Melanson held down the number of rebounds he offered and kept the puck under control in the crease.
“We were getting chances,” Libby said. “We just couldn’t bury them. It was definitely frustrating.”
Said Friars defenseman Jay Leach: “Sometimes that’s the way hockey goes. I don’t think we were going upstairs enough.”
One of the keys for Wisconsin was to get out to a good start. Behind Hussey’s goal, the Badgers did just that — on their first shot, no less.
Heatley sent a pass to Hussey, low in the left circle. Hussey fired a sharp-angle wrist shot that beat Schaefer high over the glove.
“We got out to the early lead and that was pretty big for us,” Heatley said. “We rode that the whole way through.”
Heatley followed in the second period, and Murray put the Badgers ahead 3-0 midway through the second period, scoring on a give-and-go play with Hussey.
Murray fed Hussey entering the zone, and Hussey left the puck for Murray between the circles. Murray’s wrist shot found the low right corner of the net for his 13th goal of the season.
“I don’t think there was a turning point,” Providence coach Paul Pooley said, “but I thought the third goal we gave up was something that helped them secure the victory.”
Lee gave the Friars some hope entering the third period with his late second-period goal. At the top of the crease, he backhanded a centering pass from the left corner past Melanson.
But Wheeler and Davyduke put the game away in the third, executing a nice 2-on-1 break. Davyduke carried the puck up the right wing into the circle, then fed Wheeler, who buried a one-timer.