For the first time since the 2010-2011 season, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team will welcome Michigan State back to the Kohl Center for the final home series of the season.
After coming off a weekend split with Ohio State, the Badgers will look to keep hope alive in their Big Ten title ambitions. With only six conference games remaining, these final two home games are critical to UW’s title chances.
“For us to bring back that trophy, we’re probably going to have to be pretty close to winning out and get some help,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said. “The other goal for us that we need to want to reach is to make sure that we’re one or two for the Big Ten Tournament so that we can get that bye.”
The No. 8 Badgers (17-9-2, 8-5-1 Big Ten, 25 points) look to send their group of nine seniors out as winners in their home series finale with the Spartans (9-13-7, 3-5-6, 19 points), who come into Madison having swept Penn State this past weekend.
Eaves also emphasized the importance of senior defenseman and captain Frankie Simonelli.
“He’s always ranked high in the hard stats…shots, blocked shots, hits…” he said. “We have been able to lean on [Simonelli] in terms of pressure when things weren’t going well and he’s been that voice in the locker room…that have steadied the ship.”
UW will face stern opposition in goal from MSU goaltender Jake Hildebrand, who was named Big Ten Third Star of the Week for his performances against the Nittany Lions, posting a .946 save percentage and accumulating 53 saves.
Wisconsin will also likely look to senior forward Mark Zengerle, who scored two goals in UW’s Saturday win over OSU, to be the answer to Michigan State’s shot-stopper.
This senior class has endured a difficult career, finding it challenging to advance in the WCHA tournament and then only making it to the first round of the NCAA tournament last year.
With Senior Day ceremonies planned for Saturday afternoon, they hope this season, and this final pair of home games, ends up being their most memorable one yet.
“This is the last home series for our seniors,” Eaves said. “Let’s send them off in a grand way.”
When asked about the development of this year’s senior class, Eaves said, “I could go through every player and tell you how each one has grown, and it would take a long time…the growth in every one of them has been substantial.”
Sweeping the Spartans would further help Wisconsin’s push toward its goal of a top-two finish in the Big Ten, making this first meeting of the season between these two teams all the more crucial.
The puck drops at 7 p.m. Friday night at the Kohl Center, with the home and series finale Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m.