After a 1-7-2 start to the season, Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves knew his players had a choice to make. They could sag under the weight of that awful beginning and expect an early end to their season, or they could persevere.
The Badgers chose the latter. Saturday at Xcel Energy Center, their refusal to lose hope carried them all the way to a WCHA Final Five championship and the NCAA tournament bid that comes with it.
Wisconsin (22-12-7) defeated Colorado College 3-2 to win its first Broadmoor Trophy since 1998, ending its tenure in the WCHA with a season that Eaves called the most enjoyable of his career.
Freshman winger Nic Kerdiles scored the winning goal at 16 minutes, 15 seconds of the second period and was named the tournament’s most valuable player after collecting three goals and three assists in three games. The victory was the sixth in a row for the No. 14 Badgers and extended their record to 21-5-5 in their past 31 games.
The Badgers’ Tyler Barnes scored the game’s first goal with 17 seconds remaining in the first period. Sean Little made it 2-0 early in the second before Charlie Taft pulled the Tigers within 2-1. Kerdiles extended the Badgers’ lead to 3-1, and after the Tigers’ Rylan Schwartz scored with 27.6 seconds left in the second period, Colorado College (18-19-5) was held without a goal on only four shots.
The victory gave Wisconsin an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament, which begins Friday. The 16-team field will be announced at 8 p.m. Sunday. Four other WCHA teams — the Gophers, North Dakota, Denver and Minnesota State, Mankato — are in position to make the tournament, while St. Cloud State is on the bubble.
“We get to play another weekend,’’ Eaves said. “[The players] stayed together through some tough times, and it served us well. We are where we are today because of those lessons we learned.’’
The announced attendance for the championship game was 18,782. WCHA officials said 87,295 fans attended the five games over three days, the third-largest total attendance in the event’s history.
The game was the last in the WCHA for both teams; the Badgers and Gophers will play in the Big Ten beginning next season.
The Tigers are among six other WCHA members heading to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.