After a series split at home against Minnesota last weekend, No. 20 Michigan State hockey (11-10-1) hits the road this weekend for a two-game set with Wisconsin (8-11-1).
The Spartans swept the Badgers in their first two meetings earlier in the season at Munn Ice Arena. A 41-save shutout from senior goaltender John Lethemon gave MSU a 3-0 win in game one, followed by a thrilling 5-4 comeback win in game two that senior forward Patrick Khodorenko capped off with an overtime goal.
MSU coach Danton Cole was happy with his team’s competitive level when the two teams matched up in early December, citing its ability to handle adversity as a big factor in their success. The green and white averaged 40 shots on goal over the two games, which still holds as its most in a series this season. Looking ahead to this weekend, shutting down Wisconsin’s transition will be a point of emphasis for the team.
“That’s a big part of the game when you play Wisconsin,” Cole said. “You have to figure out a way to slow down their transition and play in their end a little bit more than they’re in yours.”
Wisconsin has only played three games since their last meeting with the Spartans. They took down the U.S. U-18 Team 3-2 in an exhibition on New Year’s Day and are most recently coming off a series split at home against No. 9 Ohio State.
MSU will enter the weekend 7-4-1-0 in Big Ten play, giving them 22 points and a second-place tie with Ohio State in the conference standings, trailing first-place Penn State by two points. The PairWise rankings, which is a ranking that uses statistics to approximate who will get at-large bids to the NCAA tournament, has the Spartans ranked at No. 16.
Khodorenko scored last weekend in the team’s 4-1 win over Minnesota, giving him 49 goals in his career and inching him closer to the elusive 50-goal mark, something a Spartan hasn’t done since 2009. The assistant captain is third in the Big Ten with 22 points and tied for second with 11 goals.
An underrated strength for Michigan State this season has been their success in the face off dot. Their .540 winning percentage is good for sixth in the country and second in the Big Ten, narrowly behind Notre Dame. Junior forward Tommy Apap has taken the most face offs in the conference this season, leading the Big Ten with 235 wins. His .583 winning percentage ranks second in the Big Ten.
The Badgers boast one of the best players in the country, as Montreal Canadiens draft prospect Cole Caufield leads the Big Ten with 13 goals and is fourth in the conference with 22 points. Wisconsin as a whole is averaging 3.15 goals per game, good for 17th best in the nation.
It’s been just over two years since MSU last won at the Kohl Center, and the Spartans went winless on the road against the Badgers last season. A successful weekend in Madison would bolster the green and white’s resume in a big way, as this Wisconsin team is not one to overlook.
Game one is set for 9 p.m. Friday night (ESPNU, ESPN+), while game two will start at 8 p.m. on Saturday night (BTN+).
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