Playing Through It

The Debacle in Denver is two weeks old but still fresh in the minds of the Wisconsin Badgers.

They don’t dwell on it; it is in the past. This is a team fighting for its national playoff life, and the Badgers are living in the “is” and not the “was.” However, the “was” might be the rally cry to create a great “will be.”

Since being victimized at Magness Arena, the Badgers have found life. They have won or tied the close games in Alaska that they just played, and blew out Denver the night after legally scoring the game tying goal with under a second to go. They have found life with the return of three players from the World Junior Championships, and Kyle Turris’ return has electrified the squad.

Historically, it has been said that there is no more dangerous entity than a motivated man or group and a cause. In this case, the Badgers have a cause. The Who sang the song “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” The Badgers are singing “Don’t Get Screwed Again.”

“We needed to get focused quickly after that happened and Coach Eaves did a great job of doing that and turning it into a rally cry for us,” said junior captain Ben Street. “He told us it won’t be the last time we get hosed in life and that we need the proper response. His message was don’t be in a position where we have to get that game tying goal in the last seconds. Have business taken care of by that point.”

Eaves is a great leader and has always been so. In recent years, he has overseen a dramatic comeback in a gold-medal game to win a World Junior Championship with Team USA, and he orchestrated a dramatic run to a national title two seasons ago.

“He really lit a fire under us,” said Street, a junior alternate captain and on-ice leader. “He did a great job of getting our minds focused on a proper response and we have responded with five points in three games.”

That was prior to their 3-1 win over archrival Minnesota at Kohl Center Friday night to overtake Minnesota in the standings and inch closer to home ice in the first round of the playoffs. It was a win in which Wisconsin did the little things to get the lead and keep it, and got a huge boost from a top0notch performance by goalie Shane Connelly.

Street plays a rugged game and does the stuff that might not get noticed in the boxscore. Then again, he’ll get himself free for a point-blank goal like he did Friday night, drilling a centering pass home to give the Badgers a 3-1 third-period lead during a shift when he was all over the ice.

He played with Turris most of the first half of the season, and the boyhood friends developed great chemistry. Turris and Street were split up at Minnesota State to get some more offense going, and then Turris left for the WJC.

Street plugged away, and Friday he was great. His line with Michael Davies on his left and the very dependable and emotional Matthew Ford on his right was a thorn in the side of the Gophers. Matched against the Minnesota trio of Mike Hoeffel, Mike Carman, and Jay Barriball, Street’s group did a very good of shutting them down most of the night.

It’s handling that change of linemates, changing positions (Street played wing with Turris in the middle), and being a leader that is helping Street be even more effective and the Badgers be a better team. He had adopted the theme of the team.

“We have made a lot of strides since being swept at home by Colorado College,” said Street. “We saw on Saturday at Denver (a 7-2 win) whet we needed to do to be successful. We came out and we battled. Alaska is a team that backs off and then hammers you. It’s a long trip. We won and tied there because we kept going and kept believing in each other.”

And they had a rallying cry. And they have an identity now. The Badgers’ theme is “Play Through It.” They didn’t develop it at the start of the year; didn’t have it up on the wall or on t-shirts out of the gate. They don’t even need to see that phrase now. They feel it, they live it, and they do it. It makes them a very dangerous team.

It makes them a team that can overachieve. A well-motivated group and a cause.

Makes Wisconsin a very interesting team. One not to be taken lightly down the stretch.