To Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves, the atmosphere at the NCAA East regional for his team’s semifinal contest wasn’t likely to faze his star netminder.
The Badgers’ Bernd Bruckler, the leading man between the pipes in the WCHA this season, has played well in pressure-packed situations all year. So, despite a dearth of NCAA tournament experience, Eaves had plenty of confidence in his junior before Friday’s game against Ohio State.
“When a kid plays only two games a week, every weekend’s like the playoffs,” Eaves said. “Friday and Saturday nights against North Dakota in front of 15,000 fans — they don’t get any more pressure-filled than that.”
And in situations like that this season, Bruckler has excelled. Playing against North Dakota in Madison, he stopped 66 shots and got a pair of wins. In four games against Minnesota and St. Cloud, he allowed seven goals on 127 shots.
In the same number of contests at Denver and Minnesota State, Bruckler allowed eight goals on 119 shots. In all four series, he helped the Badgers record a win and a tie.
After performing well in such pressure-filled environs — and he performed the best of all WCHA goalies this season, stopping almost 93 percent of the shots sent his way and maintaining a 2.11 goals against average — Bruckler’s poise against Ohio State was something Eaves banked on.
“It was a difficult first period [for him] because he didn’t see a whole lot of shots,” Eaves said. “It took a real good mental focus.”
“I had to be sharp because we didn’t give up many shots,” Bruckler agreed. “I had to be mentally tough, tell myself to stay in the now.”
In that first period, Bruckler saw only six shots; for the game, 28 came his way. What was particularly challenging, though, was the penalty for high-sticking that teammate Rene Bourque took in overtime. During the ensuing Ohio State power play, the Buckeyes got three quality shots on net and Bruckler turned aside all three.
Saturday, though, Bruckler stands a good chance of seeing as competitive an atmosphere as a usual WCHA weekend, and he almost certainly will see a better netminder than he’s accustomed to lining up against. Maine coach Tim Whitehead wouldn’t say whether Jimmy Howard or his partner Frank Doyle would start against Wisconsin.
Howard, who was chased after two periods by four Harvard goals in the regional’s early game, boasts the best numbers of any netminder in the nation. And Doyle, who pitched a scoreless period of relief for Howard in Maine’s comeback win, has a sub-2.00 goals against average.
Both goaltenders compare favorably with any opposition Bruckler has encountered this year, and one of the keys to the regional final between Maine and Wisconsin is how effective Bruckler can be in the combination of an intense playoff atmosphere (all signs point to effective) and against a top opposing goaltender.