Battling The Building

“LET’S GO RED! LET’S GO RED!”

The crowd, a sea of Wisconsin red with only tiny islands of Boston College gold, was determined to be the potentially decisive seventh man.

“LET’S GO BADGERS!”

The Wisconsin band blared. The students jumped up and down in unison. The electric atmosphere pulsed with excitement and throbbing decibel levels.

The Wisconsin crowd was the seventh man for the Badgers Saturday (photo: Skip Strandberg).

The Wisconsin crowd was the seventh man for the Badgers Saturday (photo: Skip Strandberg).

And this was before the first puck was dropped.

Seemingly 17,000 of the 17,758 in attendance were decked out in red. With Frozen Four tickets sold nationwide long before the season even starts, it isn’t easy for home fans to dominate the crowd to this extent, but the Badger fans have pulled it off.

UW coach Mike Eaves would say after the game, “Somehow, those wacky Wisconsin fans found a way to get tickets. It was truly an emotional energizer. The kids wanted to give them a reason to cheer. It was a phenomenal atmosphere.”

Phenomenal indeed.

The PA announcer introduced BC’s first player, goaltender Cory Schneider — “SIEVE! SIEVE! SIEVE!” — and continued to its last, Brock Bradford — “BOOOO!” the words barely audible over the jeers. The crowd then cranked up the volume when it was the Badgers’ turn.

YEAAAAAHHHH!

“LET’S GO RED! LET’S GO RED!”

The Badgers owned the opening minutes and as they went on two successive power plays the scoring chances kept coming. “OH! OH! OH!”

“LET’S GO RED! LET’S GO RED!”

Even when the teams were at even strength — “THAT’S DEBATABLE!” — Wisconsin’s territorial advantage was clear.

But then at the 9:01 mark, BC got the break it needed. Capitalizing on a hustle play and centering pass by Dan Bertram, Pat Gannon roofed a backhander from the doorstep into the net. Amazingly, the Eagles had taken the lead.

For the briefest of moments, the BC fan contingent made itself heard. For once, their chant of “Let’s Go Eagles!” wasn’t drowned out by their counterparts in red.

By the end of the period, Wisconsin would hold a 17-9 shot advantage that understated its territorial advantage. But BC led where it counted, on the scoreboard.

“Our goal was to take them out of it early and not let them jump on top, which I think we did with that first period goal,” Schneider would say later. “I think we took the crowd out of it for a little while.”

That little while, however, lasted barely more than a minute into the second period. Chris Collins nailed Robbie Earl with a hip check and the Wisconsin junior was slow to get up. Seconds later, though, Earl was parked at the crease and redirected a centering pass from Adam Burish into the net.

“LET’S GO RED! LET’S GO RED!”

If the decibel count had dropped a trifle with the Badgers down by a goal, it was back in full force now.

“LET’S GO RED! LET’S GO RED!”

“ONE! WE WANT MORE!”

When the buzzer sounded to end the second period, the Badgers had the crowd, the momentum and the territorial advantage. But the game stood deadlocked courtesy of Schneider and the first-period goal.

“Our club got just what we wanted,” BC coach Jerry York said. “We got to the third period in a very, very tough environment to play in and shortened the game to 20 minutes. Now it’s a 20-minute game to a national championship.”

That 20-minute game within the game began with BC getting two out of the first three power plays. The Eagles, however, couldn’t capitalize.

“LET’S GO RED! LET’S GO RED!”

“ROLL OUT THE BARREL….”

Wisconsin would get the remaining three man-advantages, the first of which seemed half BC hook and half Wisconsin dive. Maybe, just maybe, that call was influenced just enough by “LET’S GO RED! LET’S GO RED!” Tom Gilbert scored the game-winner on that power play, dousing the crowd’s fire with gasoline.

“YEAHHHH!”

“LET’S GO RED! LET’S GO RED!”

“ONE! TWO! WE WANT MORE!”

As the clock ticked down, the Badger fans became even more frenzied. Their first national championship since 1990 was so close they could taste it.

“LET’S GO RED! LET’S GO RED! LET’S GO RED! LET’S GO RED!”

With two seconds remaining, BC came within inches of stunning them into at least temporary silence. A Peter Harrold shot deflected off a Badger defender and hit the post, but never went in. The final buzzer sounded.

“YEAAAAAHHHHHHHH!”

Soon, the PA announcer would be saying the words, “And now the NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Champions, the Wisconsin Badgers!”

“YEAAAAAHHHHHHHH!”

Boston College had battled both the Wisconsin Badgers and the building and fallen short. Of course, the skates had been on the other feet in past Frozen Fours. After the loss, the Eagles would say only positive things about the electric atmosphere even if it had made their task just a little tougher.

“They’ve had a long tradition [of great crowds] at Wisconsin, dating back to the Dane County Coliseum,” York said. “They’re just boisterous and very supportive of the home team. It’s never anti-opposition. That’s difficult to do, but they’re always pro-Badgers.”

Harrold took the praise even further.

“The Wisconsin fans are unbelievable,” he said. “We could feed off of that, too. I’d just like to thank them on behalf of BC and my teammates. It’s been a heck of a tournament and we really appreciate everything that was done for us.”

A heck of a tournament. A heck of a game. A heck of a crowd. A heck of an effort by Boston College. And a heck of a champion in the Wisconsin Badgers.

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