When Wisconsin (21-12-7) meets up with Colorado College (18-18-5) Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center in the championship game of the 2013 WCHA Final Five, it will be doing so with two prizes within reach.
The obvious prize at hand is the Broadmoor trophy, awarded to the WCHA playoff champion. The Badgers have won 11 playoff titles in their history, with the last coming under former head coach Jeff Sauer in 1998.
While the Broadmoor is an outstanding accomplishment, winning the prestigious trophy means Wisconsin is in the NCAA tournament. Due to some upsets in other conference tournaments so far this weekend, the Badgers must win Saturday to earn a birth in the 16-team NCAA tournament field.
CC is in a similar situation, as they also will need the WCHA's auto-bid to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament.
Wisconsin came into the season with high expectations and a veteran group, but saw its season take an alternate course after a multitude of adversity.
Blue-chip freshman Nic Kerdiles was suspended for 10 games by the NCAA for an amateurism violation, top forwards Mark Zengerle and Derek Lee suffered injuries, and assistant coach Bill Butters stepped down to resume career with hockey ministries.
Through the early storms Wisconsin started just 1-7-2, and many fans were calling for a change at the helm on the Badger bench. A 30-game run of 20-5-5 and Badgers are on the verge of the NCAA tournament and their first Broadmoor trophy of the Mike Eaves era.
Wisconsin has been especially good of late, winning its past five games, and seven of eight. The Badgers are starting to get some of the breaks they weren't getting when the season started, especially on the offensive end where they have found the back of the net 33 times in their past eight games for an average of over four goals-per-game.
"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."
One player who certainly wasn't getting any breaks early in the season was Kerdiles. His return to the lineup Nov. 30th seemed to coincide with Wisconsin's turnaround, and the freshman winger has been especially good down the stretch, registering points in his past 10 games.
During his 10 game point streak Kerdiles has recorded four goals and 16 points, which is tops in the country over that time frame. Kerdiles has also recorded four straight multi-point games in the WCHA playoffs, and keeps on 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 after Friday's win over St. Cloud. "I'm just trying to help the team and do everything I can."
Kerdiles' line-mates Tyler Barnes and Mark Zengerle have been outstanding down the stretch as well. Barnes has seven goals and 14 points in his last 10 games, including six points in his last three games, and Zengerle has chipped in 14 points over that span as well.
The two most important players on the ice Saturday night will man the nets for their respective teams. Wisconsin's Joel Rumpel and Colorado College's Joe Howe have been two of the better goaltenders in the country recently.
Rumpel has won his past four games and has a .961 save percentage in the WCHA playoffs after being egregiously snubbed from the WCHA all-conference team. Howe hasn't been so bad himself, registering a .936 save percentage in the playoffs, and stopping 64 of 67 shots so far in St. Paul.
Whichever one of those two plays better on Saturday will like see their team hoisting the Broadmoor trophy, and extending their season one more week.
Game time on Saturday night is 7:10, and the game can be seen live on Fox Sports North.
For more Wisconsin hockey coverage, follow Andy on Twitter (@AndyJohnsonB5Q)
You can also reach Andy via e-mail (AndyJohnsonB5Q@gmail.com)