After going two games without scoring a goal, the Michigan State hockey team (7-15-2) looks to get the offense back on track this weekend with No. 5 Wisconsin (17-8-1) in town for a two-game series on Friday and Saturday at Munn Ice Arena.
When it comes to Wisconsin, lots of attention goes to sophomore Cole Caufield and deservedly so: Caufield is first in the country in both goals (22) and points (42) while also being tied for fifth in the country in assists with 20. He tortured the Spartans for four goals and three assists in just two games when the two teams met at the end of January.
Spartan Head Coach Danton Cole believes that the best way to stop him, or at least contain him, is to have tight coverage defensively in order to limit his chances.
“If you are going to give a lot of time and space and not contest the puck and not gap up," Cole said to ahead of the series. "So not close in the neutral zone when they are coming, and not close in the defensive zone, he is going to get a lot of looks.”
Since the Badgers have plenty of other offensive weapons, their option do not end with Caufield. Forwards Linus Weissbach and Dylan Holloway are stupendous too. The pair ranks third and fourth in the country in points respectively. Ty Pelton-Byce is not too far behind either, tied for 14th in the country in points.
Simply put, the Wisconsin roster is stacked.
Those three, along with Caufield, are all part of a power-play unit that ranks at the top in the country with a 30.9% conversion rate for 25 power-play goals. For reference, MSU has scored just four power-play goals this season.
An attempt at limiting power play opportunities, something they did not do last time, will be a big key for Michigan State to sneak an upset against the Badgers.
“I think just when we play a smarter game overall and limit our mistakes it goes a long way for us, especially against a team that can put them in the back of the net,” MSU defenseman Dennis Cesana said prior to the matchup.
The first game was a brutal performance for MSU that resulted in a 6-0 loss. The second game though, the Spartans looked much better. The game was tied at 1-1 midway through the third period, but a major penalty and game misconduct by MSU defenseman Aiden Gallacher for checking-from-behind gave the Badgers a five-minute power play. Wisconsin would capitalize with two power-play goals and then tacked on an empty-netter for a 4-1 victory.
“If you look at the good teams in the NHL and you look at the Tampa Bay Lightning last year when they won it, they got a lot of talent on their team, but they work extremely hard and Wisconsin is like that as well,” Cole said. “They got a lot of talent but that does not mean much if they do not work hard, but they do. They play hard, and you better be ready to match that (competition) level and I thought we did a good job with that the second night.”
Goaltending duties have been split this year between freshman Cameron Rowe and senior Robbie Beydoun. Both have been solid, but Rowe has been superior ranking third in the country in save percentage (.939) and sixth in the country in goals allowed average (1.77).
The puck drops for Game 1 at 4 p.m. Friday on BTN+ while Game 2 starts at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on Big Ten Network.