Fans celebrate along with Wisconsin's Brendan Woods, left, after Nic Kerdiles, right, scored in the third period of a WCHA Final Five college hockey semifinal against St. Cloud State, Friday, March 22, 2013, in St. Paul, Minn. Wisconsin won 4-1 to advance to Saturday's championship game. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Wisconsin is surging out of the WCHA. One more win would send the Badgers to the tournament they truly want to win.
Nic Kerdiles had a goal and two assists to help Wisconsin beat St. Cloud State 4-1 in the WCHA semifinals on Friday, the fifth straight win for the Badgers.
Joseph LaBate, John Ramage and Tyler Barnes also scored for the Badgers (21-12-7), who will play for the championship and the Broadmoor Trophy on Saturday against either Colorado College or Minnesota. Seeded fourth in this year's WCHA playoffs, their last appearance before they move to the Big Ten, the Badgers haven't won the conference title game since 1998. They started this season 2-7-5.
"It would've been very easy for the team to just fall apart, but as a coaching staff we went in and tried to say the right things and then the leadership took over from there," coach Mike Eaves said.
Joel Rumpel made 30 saves for Wisconsin, which has scored 24 goals during this five-game winning streak. The Badgers scored twice on their power play, including Ramage's goal just 11 seconds after St. Cloud State defenseman Tim Daly was given a five-minute major penalty and ejected for checking from behind early in the second period.
"They're just dialed in now with their systems and how they play. I was awful impressed," said St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko.
Ben Hanowski tied the game late in the first period on a power play for the top-seeded Huskies (23-15-1), who shared the regular season championship with Minnesota but must wait until Sunday to find out their fate for the NCAA tournament.
"Bubble trouble. You know more about it than I do. We're 8-3-1 against teams in this tournament, but our nonconference record is what's hurting us," said Motzko, whose team will move to the upstart National Collegiate Hockey Conference next season. "We deserve to play again."
The Huskies fell into a tie for 12th after the game in the latest PairWise rankings, produced by USCHO.com to try to mirror the NCAA tournament selection criteria. Only 16 teams get in, with five spaces for automatic bids.
That's what Wisconsin wants, because the Badgers are on that at-large bid bubble, too.
"I'd rather it be in our hands than in someone else's," Rumpel said.
Rumpel made sure they'd have a chance to keep playing. He made a remarkable, and controversial, save late in the first period to preserve the tie when Nic Dowd tried to poke a loose puck past him. Rumpel dived to his right and lost control of his stick in the process, but the stick kept sliding through the crease - in perfect position to block the puck from crossing the line.
Rumpel said he thought the puck dislodged the stick from his hand. The Huskies weren't happy after a video review by the officials upheld the no-go call, but this afternoon belonged to the Badgers.
"Bit of luck on my side there, but I'll take it," Rumpel said.