Once Wisconsin qualified for the Frozen Four, the home-ice advantage was obvious. The Badgers would play for their fourth national championship in their home state.
But some things have to be heard to be believed.
Thursday evening, the crowd reverberated every time a Wisconsin player touched the puck. The compact Bradley Center shook when Brian Elliott made a save. And when Ross Carlson scored a shorthanded goal in the second period, the decibel level was lower at Pompeii.
A sold-out building teemed with Wisconsin red, except for one small palette of Maine blue. True to their reputation as rabid supporters in their own right, the Black Bear faithful made themselves heard at every Maine success.
But as Wisconsin tightened its hold on the game in the third period, even those diehards receded into the abyss.
“[The atmosphere] was outstanding. We anticipated coming in that we were going to have a pro-Wisconsin crowd playing in our backyard in Milwaukee,” said Wisconsin forward Adam Burish. “Every period we came out, the fans were going nuts. Wisconsin fans will cheer at weird times.”
“Whenever the game gets long, all of a sudden they start clapping or cheering or singing ‘On Wisconsin’ and it keeps you going.”
Burish put Wisconsin ahead 1-0 at 10:11 of the first period. The building alternated sides with “One — We Want More! One — We Want More!”
Elliott stopped a Maine player at the side of the net with a minute left to go in the second period. The crowd cheered as if the Badgers had scored. For the next 30 seconds, Elliott was serenaded with “Hobey Baker.”
The final two and a half minutes of the game were a continuous standing ovation that lasted well past the horn.
“This was a tough environment to come into,” said Maine captain Greg Moore. “Obviously as a home team, having that kind of fan base and support, it’s kind of like having an extra guy on the ice, like we get at Alfond. It can work against you, but when they kept the momentum it made it tough to come back.”
While nothing could have fully prepared the Black Bear players for the reception that the Wisconsin faithful gave them, coach Tim Whitehead had heard this tune before. Maine lost to Minnesota in the 2002 championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
When the Golden Gophers scored the winning goal in overtime, the locals caused minor tremors, chanting around the building “Minn-e-so-ta.”
“I wasn’t [getting flashbacks to Minnesota],” Whitehead said. “That’s not why we lost. It was a factor, but I thought it was a great atmosphere. I thought the Wisconsin fans were great. I thought the Maine fans were great.”
The Wisconsin fans will get an opportunity for a command performance Saturday night.
“It’s an excitement,” Burish said. “It’s exciting for our guys to have this extra support. Walking to the rink today was awesome. The guys were saying before the game that we have to make sure we get one more walk to the rink because people were high-fiving us. That’s a boost.”
The Badgers will hope the boost is big enough to help catapult them past Boston College and to their sixth national championship. Before that happens, somebody better check the support beams of the Bradley Center.