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Hockey Preview: Wisconsin Badgers

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The Spartans play a key road series this weekend against the lowly Badgers

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

This weekend the Michigan State Spartans hockey team, 2 points back of first place in the conference, look to continue their streak of solid play on the road in Madison, Wisconsin. The Spartans (12-12-2) will take on the Wisconsin Badgers (3-19-4) for the first time this season. The Spartans last weekend swept then #19 Penn State 3-0, 3-2 while the Badgers split a series against Ohio State.

It has been an absolute train wreck season for the Badgers, a year removed from a B1G tournament championship and NCAA appearance, the Badgers are one of the worst  teams in the country this season. The Badgers lost 11 players from last season's roster but were still picked to finish third in the league in the coaches poll. Top recruit Brock Boeser decommitted from the program in November, eventually choosing to play for North Dakota, a freshman left the program over Christmas break because he "wasn't having fun" and coach Mike Eaves is now feeling heat in Madison. Wisconsin won the national title in 2006 under Eaves but since then has rarely made noise in the NCAA tournament and his time may be running out. There is a twitter account devoted to his ousting (@firemikeeaves) and a petition has been started to get the bench boss ousted (36 out of 1,000 signatures!).

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Found out a Wisconsin hockey alumnus is behind this. Take that for whatever it&#39;s worth. <a href="http://t.co/X52G9Nuivn">http://t.co/X52G9Nuivn</a></p>&mdash; Andy Johnson (@AndyJohnsonB5Q) <a href="https://twitter.com/AndyJohnsonB5Q/status/560137189586403328">January 27, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

OK, so jokes about a lack of signatures aside, the fact that a Wisconsin hockey alumnus started that petition is pretty interesting. Is it a player that had a bad time at UW and was waiting for their time to pounce? Or is this a legitimate uprising from within the family of Badger hockey? Either way the situation is not bright in Madison and the Spartans should look to pounce on that this weekend.

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So, if Wisconsin is so bad are there any players to pay attention to?

Well this roster still features seven NHL draft picks, one more than what Michigan State has currently. On offense for the Badgers everything begins with Grant Besse (Anaheim Ducks) who leads the team with ten goals this season. Besse is just a sophomore and only two years removed from playing high school hockey, so his rise to leading scorer has been pretty remarkable. The other forward to pay attention to is Joseph LaBate (Vancouver Canucks) who is second on the team in points with 15. LaBate has size at 6'4" and will look to use his frame to create space against the Spartans defenseman.

In the defensive zone freshman Jack Dougherty (Nashville Predators) has struggled a little bit with college hockey but still has the talents of a 2nd round draft pick and is someone to pay attention to. The key for the Badgers this weekend will be goaltender Joel Rumpel. You have to feel bad for Rumpel, playing his senior season behind such a depleted roster. Rumpel is an excellent goaltender who has had a great college career and he will need to find some magic this weekend for the Badgers. The Spartans offense is nothing great but Jake Hildebrand will make his goaltender counterpart earn every victory.

Stats Table, Game Info and Links

Time/TV: Friday 9:00 PM (BTN), Saturday 8:00 PM

Webstream: BTN2GO (Both nights)

Radio: Spartan Sports Network

SBN Wisconsin Site: Bucky's 5th Quarter

Michigan State Spartans Stats Match-Up (National Rank) Wisconsin Badgers
2.31 (44) Goals Scored/Game 2.00 (49)
2.35 (17) Goals Against/Game 3.92 (55)
15-of-99 15.15% (40) Power Play Percentage 14-of-96 14.58% (43)
78-of-90 86.7% (11) Penalty Kill Percentage 71-of-95 74.7% (56)
Matt Berry (Sr) 8G, 13A 21pts Leading Scorer Grant Besse (So) 10G, 10A 20pts

Jake Hildebrand (Jr) 12-12-2

2.27 GAA, .924 save %

Expected Goaltenders

Joel Rumpel (Sr) 3-17-4

3.66 GAA, .899 save %

3 Keys to success

  1. Quick Start- This can apply to the series in general and each game individually. Do not give Wisconsin a reason to feel confident. Pounce on them Friday night and do it early. This is a team that has it's eyes set on the end of the season and the Spartans need to be the aggressor early.
  2. Matt Berry-Matt DeBlouw-Mackenzie MacEachern line- This line was dominant last weekend, scoring 5 of the 6 weekend goals. DeBlouw has really come on as of late and will be key for the Spartans, especially on the power play.
  3. The Power Play- Speaking of that power play, it will play a key role this weekend. Frustrated teams take penalties and who can be more frustrated than Wisconsin? Bad news for the Badgers is there are only 2 teams with worse penalty killing units than them. The Spartans should look to get DeBlouw in his usual spot along the blue line for one-timers and score key goals over the Badgers.

Around the B1G (w/ the BTN Hockey Report)

This weekend the campus of Ohio State will act like they care about hockey for their token day, as they host Michigan on Sunday after traveling to Ann Arbor Friday. Minnesota will travel to Penn State looking to ride the momentum of sweeping Michigan last weekend.

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Extra Pucks in the Bag

  • It was a good weekend for MSU recruits last weekend in the USHL. Marcel Godbout (1g, 2a) and Zach Osburn (1g, 1a) helped Chicago sweep the Lincoln Stars. Mason Appleton had 4 assists as Tri-City continued to be the hottest team in the league beating both Omaha and Soiux City.
  • Mackenzie MacEachern earned the NCAA's 1st star as player of the week for his 5 point weekend against Penn State.
  • The Detroit News wrote about Villiam Haag and his pursuit of an advertising degree while balancing life as a student-athlete.
  • Former Spartan Jeff Petry is one of the hottest names on the trade rumor mill as the March 2nd deadline approaches.
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I want to treat this preview as a game thread to hang out in during the game. Be sure to comment often as the Spartans take on their #RealRival and #BorderBattle! Also be sure to follow me on twitter @Jeremy_Dewar and the great @andyjohnsonb5q for awesome Wisconsin coverage. Also, I am trying some new things out in the previews with the extra links (extra pucks in the bag) so leave a comment/suggestion on that if you guys have any. Also, be sure to leave suggestions anytime in the comments or any questiosn for a possible mailbag/podcast answer if you'd like as well! Go Green! Go White!