After a weekend at home, Michigan State is back on the road, heading west to face off in a two-game series against Wisconsin.
This weekend will be the second time this season that the Spartans and Badgers clash. Back in late November, Michigan State secured a sweep of Wisconsin at Munn Ice Arena, winning 3-2 and 5-2. Since then, the two teams have not drifted far apart in the Big Ten standings. MSU is currently in fifth place with 15 points, while Wisconsin is in sixth place with 10 points.
The Spartans and the Badgers are not just similar in the standings, they play a similar style of hockey: strong defense, good goaltending and not a lot of goal support. Wisconsin averages just under two goals per game (1.95, which is the ninth worst in college hockey and the worst in the Big Ten) and Michigan State’s average sits at 2.36.
Wisconsin's junior goaltender Jared Moe has been fantastic in the crease for the Badgers, holding a .924 save percentage. However, MSU senior goaltender Drew DeRidder has been more than fantastic for the Spartans — he’s been elite. The senior goaltender’s .942 save percentage is the fourth best in all of college hockey. With DeRidder in net, Michigan State has an opportunity to win every night.
Freshman defenseman Corson Ceulemans leads Wisconsin's defense and the team in points, with three goals and 11 assists in 18 games. Senior forward Brock Caulfield is hot on his heels, with five goals and seven assists on the season. These are not the Badgers of last year, relying on one player for offense. Although they do not put up a lot of points, this is a squad that can find scoring throughout the lineup.
It is a tall task to sweep an opponent in the Big Ten. It is even harder to pull off a season sweep over a conference opponent. Michigan State may have been the better team the first time they met, but Wisconsin is desperate to turn the season around.
Michigan State swept Wisconsin once, so how do they do it again?
For starters, they will have to stay out of the box. In Saturday’s game against Minnesota, the Spartans were penalized seven times. The team’s penalty kill unit is strong, but even the best units in the nation would have trouble facing seven in one night.
The power play is also key. MSU scored three power play goals against the Badgers in the last series, which was an essential aspect of victory considering the Spartans struggles on offense this year.
Michigan State’s freshmen could also be game-changers. Defenseman David Gucciardi earned the first star of the week in the Big Ten after a three-goal performance in the Great Lakes Invitational and forward Jesse Tucker flashed potential in his debut as the top-line center Saturday night, notching two assists. The duo have grown throughout the season and have become strong additions to the team.
Throwing a wrench into MSU’s plans is the possible absence of fifth year forward Mitchell Lewandowski, the team’s leading point-scorer. Lewandowski missed both games against Minnesota and the offense desperately missed his playmaking in Friday’s 4-1 loss to Minnesota.
The two squads are coming off of tough weekends. The Spartans were swept by Minnesota, while the Badgers were swept by Ohio State. At this point, winning the Big Ten is an unrealistic ask for both teams, but they are still vying for a home game in the conference tournament.
The series kicks off Friday night, where the puck is set to drop at 8 p.m. in Madison, Wisconsin. The game will be streamed via BTN Plus.
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