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Wisconsin Hockey Preview

The pressure is on the Spartans to get a much needed home sweep

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

There are just two weekends left in the B1G hockey regular season and the Michigan State Spartans still have a shot at a regular season title. While winning the conference is a somewhat longshot, getting to the 2 seed and earning a first-round tournament bye is much more possible. The Spartans in 3rd place sit just two points behind Minnesota, a team they split with last weekend, and five points behind league leader Michigan. The Spartans will have a home-and-home series with the Wolverines next weekend, so they can control their own destiny the rest of the way.

The quest for a conference title begins this weekend, with the Spartans hosting last place Wisconsin. The two teams met just two weeks ago in Madison, with the Spartans sleep walking through a 2-1 defeat Friday before shutting the Badgers out 3-0 on Saturday. Last weekend the Badgers were swept by Michigan to drop their overall record to 4-22-4 in what has been a disastrous season. Grant Besse (Anaheim Ducks) is still the Badgers' forward that the Spartans have to be most concerned about. The sophomore forward has 11 goals and 11 assists to lead the team in scoring. Joseph LaBate (Vancouver Canucks) is always a personal favorite of mine to watch and he is a power forward who can present some issues for Spartans' defenseman. Finally, freshman Cameron Hughes is a center to pay attention to, as he looks to close the season strong in his draft eligible year.

A key issue for the Spartans this weekend will be the loss of Travis Walsh on defense. The junior had been on the top pairing with Josh Jacobs basically all season and was lost for the season in the Thursday night game against Minnesota, when he blocked a shot with his jaw. With freshman defenseman Carson Gatt out due to suspension, the Spartans will be stretched thin along the blue line. Last Friday saw  sophomore Chris Knudson dress for just the second time all season. Look for the Spartans to increase the minutes of their top two pairs and utilize the last change this weekend to pick their spots to deploy Knudson.

Stats Table, Game Info and Links

Time/TV: Friday 7:00 PM Comcast Channel 900, Saturday 7:00 PM Fox Sports Detroit

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
2.37 (43) Goals Scored/Game 1.87 (56)
2.33 (17) Goals Against/Game 3.80 (55)
18-of-109 16.51% (34) Power Play Percentage 14-of-108 12.96% (50)
88-of-103 85.4% (21) Penalty Kill Percentage 80-of-109 73.4% (59)
Matt Berry (Sr) 8G, 15A 23pts Leading Scorer Grant Besse (So) 11G, 11A 22pts

Jake Hildebrand (Jr) 14-14-2

2.23 GAA, .925 save %

Expected Goaltenders

Joel Rumpel (Sr) 4-20-4

3.50 GAA, .902 save %

3 keys to success

  1. Keep Ryan Keller hot- Junior forward Ryan Keller has five goals and eight points in the last ten games, The Spartans have gone 7-3 in that stretch and the eight points is more than the total of each of Keller's first two seasons in East Lansing. The Badgers will try to key on the Barry-MacEachern duo this weekend so depth scoring from Spartans' like Ryan Keller, Brent Darnell and Joe Cox will be important.
  2. Frustrate the Badgers- Wisconsin has the last ranked penalty kill in all of college hockey. Last weekend the Michigan Wolverines played a clean physical game which frustrated Wisconsin and led to a lot of retaliation penalties taken. The Wolverines were able to cash in on the power play and that should be a key focus this weekend for the Spartans as well.
  3. Clear the shooting lanes- Jake Hildebrand was beaten twice in the loss to the Badgers and at least one of the goals was attributable to the Spartans not clearing his line of sight. The Badgers have had an anemic offense all year and will look to score on tipped pucks, screens and bounces. Hildebrand will do his job by holding onto rebounds but the depleted defense needs to focus on getting the Badgers away from dangerous areas of the ice.

Around the B1G

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Here&#39;s a look at the updated <a href="">@B1GHockey</a> standings <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; MSU_Hockey (@MSU_Hockey) <a href="">March 1, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script>

Minnesota will play at Ohio State, where the Buckeyes swept Penn State last weekend. Michigan will be traveling for a tricky series against Penn State. Last season the Nittany Lions were a thorn in the Wolverines' side and Penn State will be looking to keep pace with the Spartans who now are in 3rd place by three points.

Extra Pucks in the Bag

  • It was trade deadline week in both the NHL and the USHL and some past and future Spartans were on the move. Jeff Petry (2007-2010) was moved from Edmonton to Montreal and logged 26:25 of ice time last night in the Habs' loss to the Kings. Future goalie John Lethemon in the USHL was dealt from Chicago to Waterloo. Chicago had three goalies on the roster and Lethemon had not played since January 10. On Waterloo Lethemon will back up Cale Morris, who also began the year in Chicago.
  • Future Spartans forward Mason Appleton registered two assists last night in Tri-City's defeat to Fargo. Tri-City teammate and fellow Spartans' commit Cody Milan was pointless last night but scored two goals in last Saturday's win over Sioux City.
  • Former Spartans captain Greg Wolfe (2010-2014) has returned to Alaska in the ECHL after a professional tryout with Iowa in the AHL. Wolfe is the 2nd leading rookie scorer in the ECHL and registered one assist in nine games while with Iowa.
  • Is it getting dusty in here? Former Spartans defenseman Duncan Keith was the latest Chicago Blackhawks player to take part in the "What's your goal?" campaign. It
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