Purity of the heart is to will one thing

Yeah, this is pretty much all the sense you’re gonna get out of me until the Saturday championship game is over.

Let me explain something about Wisconsin hockey. And let me do it using the words of John Powers and Arthur C. Kaminsky. From their book One Goal:

Wisconsin fell four goals behind Cornell in their semifinal, stormed back to tie the game with five seconds on the clock, then won it in overtime. Then they brought down Denver the next night for the championship.

Badgermania really took told that year. Nearly 4,000 fans went with the varsity to Boston, garbed in red and white from scalp to socks. And when the Badgers trailed Cornell by four, the fans hung in, their frenzy and volume increasing. They held Wisconsin in a game that should have been conceded by that point; they simply wouldn’t let their team die.

My dad was at that game, the Cornell game, in ’73.

More after the jump.

So rooting for Wisconsin’s like a religion, anyway, and it’s harmless, mostly, unless you’re a Gopher. I don’t really give a damn about the football team.

But hockey, oh, that’s my family’s sport. My dad and his pharmacy school buds invented the “Sieve! Sieve! Sieve!” chant that terrorizes opposing goalies, first in the dingy and disgusting but much-beloved Dane County Coliseum (what looks for all the world like a chef’s hat landed in a field) and now in the way-too-shiny hockey palace of the Kohl Center. Dad told me tales of how he walked to games at the Coliseum as a student, uphill both ways of course, stuffed inside a giant fake-fur coat that made him look like a yeti. When Mr. A and I got hitched, we also got hockey tickets; every Saturday home game, every fall, for the past seven years.

And man, were there some sucky years in there. Dump and chase, a penalty kill that relied on circling around the goal praying the opponent didn’t get a shot off, defensemen who were small and weak and couldn’t skate … it was a nightmare. Only Heatley and Reinprecht were worth watching, them and Graham Melanson, sexiest goalie there ever was, who once racked up 51 saves per night, two nights in a row.

So Mike Eaves took over, and started recruiting big bruisers and making them do passing drills, and they were good last year, not great, but not so painful to watch that you want home feeling like somebody had driven nails through your retinas, with the missed rebounds and the lack of anybody, anybody at all, in front of the net on a power play.

This year … first half of the season, with forward Robbie Earl dancing in and out of defensemen and Tom Gilbert hitting people so hard they forgot which side they played for, with Hobey Baker award finalist Brian Elliot in goal with the most shutouts in school history, they racked up a hot streak. Then Elliot got hurt and everybody freaked out for a while, and the Badgers skidded to the end of the season, losing seven of their last thirteen, including a couple of painful ones, to those fuckin’ Gophers, in Madison.

Then the post season. And something’s going on, man. Something happened to this team. It’s not that they’re skating better. If anything, they’re klutzier and heavier-looking than during the regular season. They lost to North Dakota in the WCHA tournament. But then … I don’t know. They beat Minnesota for the #3 spot, they beat Bemidji State in the first NCAA round, then the Cornell game. I don’t know how you fight through a four and a half hour, three-overtime game, and then win, on a goal by a hometown freshman nobody’d heard of an hour ago. It makes no sense at all. They’re not supposed to be here.

And man, it showed tonight (yesterday? I’ve lost track). They came out looking like wounded deer against the Maine Black Bears. Your fans are fun, too, Mainers, not that you had a real shot at outshining Badger Nation, but your band doesn’t suck too much. And your goalie is fucking HUGE. Six foot seven, a monster. Y’all skate pretty, and are fast as shit. The Badgers looked rattled, flapping around, sometimes leaving the puck totally unattended in the middle of the ice while they concentrated on … what, I don’t know, and my dad and I were sitting there, our fingernails chewed down to nubs, thinking, this is gonna be a bloodbath. The scoreboard video showed Eaves, his head in his hands, looking like he was thinking of a deserted island and a drink with an umbrella in it. My dad had a box of Jujee Fruits under his seat, something to do with having eaten them during the ’73 game and bringing them along for luck. He nearly forgot them in the car, turned around, went back.

Then. With these guys, there’s always a “then.” They scored first. Then again. Then again. And despite some weird predilection for passing the puck right up the middle in their own zone, which, boys for the sake of my heart and liver, cut it the hell out, they dug in and held on through Maine’s threats, just wore them down with the dull edge of whatever game they have left at this point. And Badgers in the audience, most of whom, like me, probably paid way too much to scalpers and brokers, hugged and danced and sang and held up signs that said, WE WANT MORE, because it’s never enough, not for us, not when the game’s in Milwaukee, in our house, go up 5-2 and the fans are begging for 6.

Boston College looks scary good. I can’t wait for Saturday.