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Hockey Preview:Wisconsin Badgers

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The bottom of the B1G will meet this weekend in Madison

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday December 12 was my first (and only game) I have seen at Munn Ice Arena in the past two seasons. It was also the day that I became pretty certain this season was set to go off the rails. On a Saturday afternoon following a comeback victory Friday night, the Spartans played a game with no fire as they sleptwalk in a 3-0 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers. A Badgers team that had won just 4 games the previous season walked all over the Spartans on home ice. After that game the Spartans would not win again until January 29, and they still have not won a game at Munn Ice Arena since December 11.

This weekend the bottom two teams in the B1G will meet in Madison for the final time this season. Both coaching staffs are probably feeling varying levels of discomfort, and this weekend will provide each team a chance to feel good heading into the stretch run. Wisconsin has gone 2-6-2 since that December series in East Lansing, with their only wins being out of conference against Alaska. The Badgers played last weekend against the Michigan Wolverines scoring a surprising 4-4 tie on Saturday night, meaning that both teams will be coming into this weekend off of ties.

In that tie against the Wolverines freshman Luke Kunin (12G, 9A-21Pts) continued his campaign towards being a high NHL draft pick this Spring. Kunin has been a huge addition to the Badgers' fortunes contributing a team leading 12 goals after an off-season where it was largely speculated that he would jump ship to the OHL. The only player on the Badgers who also has double digit goals is sophomore Ryan Wagner (10G, 11A-21Pts.) who like Kunin is a product of the US National Team Development Program. The team leader in points is once again Grant Besse (5th round selection of the Anaheim Ducks in 2013) who has passed his team leading 22 points from his sophomore campaign in 2014-15 with 24 points this season. The 2013 Mr. Hockey from Minnesota is a great distributor with the puck, and he will be a leader on the ice for the Badgers.

In net the Badgers have leaned on a true freshman Matt Jurusik (3.39 GAA, .893 save percentage) who came to Wisconsin after an amazing season with the Janesville Jets of the NAHL. Jurusik has his only career shutout against the Spartans in December, but that game was not one filled with amazing saves. Jurusik will be an excellent goaltender in college, provided he gets better talent in front of him (sorry Jake HIldebrand). Jurusik is currently rated the 15th best North American goaltender by the NHL's Central Scouting Services, meaning like Hildebrand he will likely have to play himself into an NHL free agent contract.

Taking a look at the stats

Michigan State Spartans (7-20-3) Stat (National Rank) Wisconsin Badgers (6-13-7)
2.33 (49) Team Offense 2.62 (33)
3.50 (52) Team Defense 3.58 (53)
17-of-121 14.05% (44) Power Play % 17-of-90 18.89% (23)
93-of-110 84.5% (20) Penalty Kill % 85-of-100 85.0% (13)
47.2% (43) Corsi For 49.4% (34)
45.6% (46) Corsi For Close 50.5% (30)
5 NHL Draft Picks 5

3 Keys to Spartan Success

  1. Rattle Matt Jurusik- The Spartans in their poor loss to the Badgers in December did a bad job at trying to make the freshman goaltender work. You would like to see tons of traffic in front of him to rattle him and get under his skin. The Spartans do not have the offensive talent of a Michigan, and will need to get to the high traffic areas for some ugly goals this weekend.
  2. Emotion- Last Friday the Spartans looked dead in the water playing the Penn State Nittany Lions before rebounding for a tough tie on Saturday. Leaders like Michael Ferrantino and Joe Cox were the reason for the turnaround Saturday, and they need to get this team emotionally ready for this weekend's series.
  3. Joe Cox- I expect the best defensive forward on the roster to shadow Luke Kunin all weekend and he will be key to the Spartans chances.

Quotable

He's going to the scoring areas better, and I think he can still improve on having a mindset to shoot the puck more often in that area. I think a lot of his success has to do with ice time. He's earned a lot of ice time. He's playing with players who give him more opportunity to score, as well. At the same time, he's playing against the top lines on the other teams, and that's not making it easier.

Coach Tom Anastos on junior forward Joe Cox. (MSUspartans.com)

Game Info

Time

9:05 PM both nights

TV

Friday: BTN

Saturday:N/A

Streaming on BTN2Go

Radio Spartan Sports Network

Prediction

Wisconsin has an insane amount of ties this weekend so I'll say that these two teams play to a tie Friday (with MSU winning the shootout), and the Badgers winning a close game on Saturday.

Around the B1G

Ohio State is travelling to Penn State in the only other league series this weekend. Michigan will host Ferris State for a single game on Friday night in an out-of-conference CCHA throwback game. Minnesota has this weekend off before a key series against Michigan next week.