At the beginning of December, Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves had no illusions of making the NCAA tournament.
“We were just trying to win a hockey game,’’ Eaves said of the Badgers, who won only one of their first 10 games. “We were just trying to turn this ship around and get some wind at our back.’’
That became a full-fledged gale Friday.
The No. 14 Badgers upset No. 7 St. Cloud State 4-1 in the semifinals of the WCHA Final Five, stretching their winning streak to five games and making the tournament’s title game for the first time since 2000. Though the Badgers (21-12-7) were outshot 31-21, Joel Rumpel stopped 30 shots, and John Ramage and Nic Kerdiles teamed up for two power-play goals at Xcel Energy Center.
Ramage’s goal from the slot gave the Badgers a 2-1 lead at 2:08 of the second period. They got a five-minute power play when the Huskies’ Tim Daly was penalized for checking from behind, and 13 seconds later, Kerdiles tipped in Ramage’s shot from the point.
St. Cloud State dropped from a tie for seventh in the PairWise Rankings — which predict the field for the NCAA tournament — to a tie for 11th, endangering its chances of getting into the 16-team NCAA field. Wisconsin, tied for 17th, likely will have to win the Final Five title to get in.
“St. Cloud State had the tempo and the pace and really came at us hard,’’ said Eaves, whose team is on a 20-5-5 run since Nov. 30. “Joel let us get our feet under us.’’