ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Wisconsin's motto over the past month or so has been "Keep Rolling." They certainly did that Friday afternoon, knocking off top seeded St. Cloud State (23-15-1) in a WCHA Final Five semifinal contest at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
After an abysmal 1-7-2 start to the season, Wisconsin (21-12-7) has gotten hot, going 20-5-5 over its final 30 contests. The 20th win is an especially big one, advancing UW to the WCHA Final Five title game for the first time in the Mike Eaves era.
The Badgers were able to produce just six shots in the first period, and five in the second, but goaltender Joel Rumpel was sharp all day to keep Wisconsin's season alive.
"(Rumpel) gave us a chance to get our feet underneath us early in the game," Eaves noted. "I thought St. Cloud had the tempo, pace, and really came at us hard. Joel let us get our feet underneath us."
After a few key saves by Rumpel in the early going, the Badgers were able to strike first in the opening stanza similar to what they had done yesterday against Minnesota State. This time around it was Joseph LaBate lighting the lamp 10:46 into the first period on a long range wrist shot.
Wisconsin gave up two goals on the penalty kill Thursday, and was burned once again while down a man Friday afternoon.
With Frankie Simonelli in the box for cross-checking, St. Cloud, who had a bye on Thursday, was able to strike for its first goal of the tournament. After taking a feed from Nic Dowd, Huskies' senior Ben Hanowski fired a one-timer through the legs of Rumpel.
Rumpel wouldn't give up much after that, and may find himself on the SportsCenter top-10 later tonight. In one of the more bizarre plays you'll ever see, Rumpel was able to keep the Badgers tied at one with St. Cloud on a questionable no-goal ruling by the officials.
After an initial save by Rumpel, St. Cloud's Dowd sent a shot towards the empty UW net. As Rumpel went to reach for the puck, his stick went flying out of his hands, deflecting the puck aside. Referees C.J. Beaurline and Brian Thul reviewed the play, but ruled that it was no goal.
"Little luck on my side there, but I'll take it," Rumpel said, smiling after the game.
Wisconsin captain John Ramage was able to give the Badgers a 2-1 lead on the power play, 2:08 into the second period. Freshman Nic Kerdiles carried the puck into the zone and centered a pass to Ramage in the slot who fired a wrister past Faragher.
"I saw Nic going down the wall and there was a big space in the middle," Ramage said. "I kind of slid in there and Nic made an unbelievable pass to find me in the slot. I don't know if it hit something or what, I was just trying to get it to the net and it went in, so I'll take it."
Ramage would add an assist later in the game, and made multiple plays defensively to keep Wisconsin's lead intact. Eaves noted after the game that Wisconsin is fortunate to have a player like Ramage who has played in big games and been through these types of do-or-die situations.
"Leadership is a hard quality to quantify," Eaves noted. You know when you have it, and you know when maybe you don't have it in spades. We're very fortunate to have John in our locker room."
Eaves went on to add that Wisconsin's leadership core is probably the reason the Badgers were able to bounce back from their poor start to the season.
"Our leadership has been strong," Eaves said. "And I think it was one of the silver linings that was in that rough (1-7-2 start) at the beginning."
Wisconsin turned up the intensity in the third period and drew a five minute power play when SCSU defenseman Tim Daly took a checking from behind major penalty. It wouldn't take long for the Badgers to strike, either.
Just :11 seconds into the major Kerdiles tipped in a Ramage shot to extend Wisconsin's lead to 3-1.
The goal was Kerdiles' third point of the game, which extended his point streak to 10 games. Kerdiles has recorded four goals and 17 points during the streak. On top of that, Kerdiles has recorded four straight multi-point games and keeps getting better as the games increase in importance.
"I like to play in big games, I like to play when the spotlight is on and there is really something at stake," Kerdiles said. "I'm just trying to help the team and do everything I can."
Kerdiles' goal was also the second time Wisconsin's No. 2 power play unit was able to convert on Friday. Both times they scored they were given the nod by the coaching staff to start the power play. Eaves noted that's a nod to the quality of their play of late.
"They've been good for a while now for us, and we put them out there first because they have done a nice job," Eaves said.
Tyler Barnes would eventually ice things for the Badgers, ripping a shot into the empty net with 1:11 to play in the third period.
Wisconsin hasn't played lights-out so far in St. Paul, but has battled through injuries and adversity, and is starting to get a few bounces their way. Given what they went through in the first month of the season, Eaves wondered after the game if maybe karma is finally on the side of the Badgers.
"I don't know how you feel about karma and those type of things, but we didn't have a lot of that going for us at all-AT all," Eaves noted of the first two months of the season. "So maybe things are balancing themselves out now."
The win keeps the Badgers' season alive, as they continue to strive for a birth in the NCAA tournament which starts next week. Thanks to an upset in the Atlantic Hockey Tournament, it appears that the Badgers will have to finish the job in St. Paul, and win the Broadmoor trophy to earn a bid in the 16-team field.
Rumpel noted after the game that he's just glad the Badgers' fate is in their own hands.
"I'd rather it be in our hands rather than someone else's."
The Badgers will face the winner of the other semifinal game between Minnesota and Colorado College for the rights to the Broadmoor trophy. Game time on Saturday is 7:00 PM, and the game can be seen live on Fox Sports North.
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