GREEN BAY, Wisc. — The week leading up to the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic was surrounded by hype — it was going to be played outdoors, at a football stadium that is considered a mecca to the people of Wisconsin with 40,000 fans.
It’s safe to say that the 4-2 Wisconsin victory over Ohio State in what was also the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game lived up to its billing.
“It was amazing. You grow up playing outside when you’re a young kid,” Ohio State assistant captain Sean Collins said. “To be able to play a game outside in front of that many fans, at Lambeau Field especially, it was an amazing experience.”
“Unless you were in that dressing room and around the whole thing, you can’t describe it,” UW captain Adam Burish said. “I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling yet since the game has ended.”
In fact, it was almost surreal, as the game itself took a back seat to the energy and atmosphere of Lambeau Field. But when the dust settled, indeed there was a game that was played.
It featured a variety of heavy hitting, some fluky goal scoring, an unusual situation in which a goal was waved off and even a “Lambeau Leap” by the Badgers when the final horn sounded their victory in front of 40,830 screaming fans.
“This week was unique in the energy that it brought to this team and the players,” UW head coach Mike Eaves said. “It will springboard us through our last few weekends of the regular season and into the playoffs.”
Burish jump-started his team from the get-go Saturday afternoon, beating Ohio State goalie David Caruso just 23 seconds into the contest.
Caruso blocked Burish’s first attempt from between the circles, but the senior got his own rebound and made the netminder pay, giving the Badgers a 1-0 lead in the opening moments.
“To score a goal early always helps, especially in a big game like this, to settle guys down,” Burish said.
It appeared that Ohio State tied the game at 7:34 when Collins collected a rebound and found nothing but the back of the net. But after a discussion by the officials, the goal was waved off because the net had come off its moorings.
It wouldn’t be the only time UW goalie Shane Connelly knocked the net off its post, but the goal was resting on a different style peg than usual.
“Every time he would shift over in the first period, he would knock the net off the moorings,” Ohio State head coach John Markell said. “He was pretty smart if he was doing it on purpose.”
“I in no way intentionally moved the net on any of those plays,” Connelly said. “I hit the post and it just fell off. I told the ref ‘It’s going to be a struggle down here — they’re just pegs, not like the moorings.”
The Buckeyes eventually did tie it up at 11:11 of the second frame. Of course, what would a showcase game in a fanatical environment be without a crazy goal?
The Buckeyes’ Dave Barton snapped off a shot from the blue line toward Connelly. The low-line shot one-hopped off the ice and over the leg pad of Connelly to tie the game 1-1.
But the Badgers would get the lead back before the second intermission on a blast from sophomore Kyle Klubertanz. The blue liner fired the puck through traffic and perhaps off a Buckeye defenseman and into the net as UW regained the lead 2-1.
The temperature slowly dwindled as the game wore on, but with what the weather circumstances could have posed in northern Wisconsin in February, nobody was complaining.
“It was like summer out thereit was [like] ‘Who cares about the weather?’” Burish said. “Once you got out there, you forgot.”
It was especially evident that the teams were unfazed by the weather in the action-packed third period.
The Badgers added to their lead seven minutes into the final period as Jake Dowell and Ryan MacMurchy set up Andrew Joudrey with a pass just above the left crease. The junior put the puck in the empty left side of the net to make it 3-1.
But the Buckeyes didn’t give up. With little more than four minutes remaining in the game, they gave themselves hope.
Wisconsin couldn’t clear the puck from out in front of Connelly, who had made an initial save. Instead, the puck squirted loose to junior center Bryce Anderson who finished it off for his third goal of the year.
“I saw us hanging together out there,” Markell said. “We fought back. We knew how important it was, and I’m proud of our kids for doing that.”
Ohio State tried to put the pressure on down the stretch and pulled Caruso out with 1:30 left to play. But UW’s Joe Pavelski made a big block in the defensive end — one that hit a nerve that caused him to lose feeling in his lower leg — and the puck bounced free to Robbie Earl, who skated down the ice untouched and deposited the empty netter.
When the horn sounded 58 seconds later, the players shook hands, and then the Badgers knew right where to go. Stealing a page from the Packers, the entire UW team leapt into what became a student section behind one end of the ice.
“We had talked about it — how cool it would be,” Burish said. “It was a special moment.”
It was a fitting end to what turned out to be an event that went even better than most had hoped.
Yes, it did have a few snags — the condition of the ice left something to be desired, and the long trek to the locker room was a bit much — but those things will not be remembered by those who witnessed the Frozen Tundra Hockey Classic.
When asked if he would like to play under similar circumstances again, Burish replied “I’ll be here tomorrow.”