After a split series against Ohio State last weekend, the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team returns to Madison one last time to take on Michigan State in its final series at the Kohl Center for the 2013-2014 regular season.
The Badgers (17-9-2 overall, 8-5-1 Big Ten, 25 points) find themselves in second place in the Big Ten, seven points behind Minnesota. With only three series left in the regular season, Wisconsin essentially has to win to have any chance of winning the inaugural Big Ten conference title.
Head coach Mike Eaves and his squad are looking to quickly move on from last weekend, most notably Friday’s loss in Columbus, Ohio. Eaves is making sure his team shifts all of their focus to this weekend’s matchup against Michigan State. This is the Badgers’ first series against the Spartans (9-13-7 overall, 3-5-6 Big Ten with 19 points) this inaugural Big Ten season.
“We are moving forward getting ready for Michigan State. So we watch their video and we do things that we think are going to help us against them,” Eaves said. “We have been working on those things this week and feel it has gone pretty well for us.”
Even though Michigan State finds itself toward the bottom of the conference, that doesn’t mean it won’t be a tough opponent for the Badgers this weekend. Eaves understands that despite their below-average record, the Spartans will come to play and compete, especially sophomore goalkeeper Jake Hildebrand, who leads the Big Ten in saves with 800.
“Watching them on tape, they are a team that works so hard,” Eaves said. “If you look at their record, they have a lot of ties. They’ve been around in a lot of games because of the fact that they work so hard and they’ve got a really fine young goaltender. We have to solve him and work as hard as they do.”
It should also be noted that, while the Spartans are in second-to-last place in the Big Ten, they only find themselves one point out of third place and six points behind Wisconsin. It’s clear Michigan State still has something to play for, and their multitude of tie games this season shows that they are able to compete.
Senior defender and captain Frankie Simonelli knows what he and his fellow defenders are in for when dealing with Michigan State’s rough and tough style, but says it’s nothing they haven’t seen before.
“They are a hard-working team. We have looked at some video, but we know that they will get after it and play aggressive,” Simonelli said. “It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, even though we haven’t played them yet, we’ve seen it in other teams and we are ready for it. We are excited for the games this weekend.”
In 28 games played this season, Simonelli has six goals and nine assists, which puts him at eighth on the team in points with 15.
This is a special weekend for Simonelli and his fellow seniors, as it is their final weekend playing in Madison at the Kohl Center. Simonelli believes it will be a special moment not only for him and the other seniors, but for the rest of the team as well.
“It’s going to be exciting. You look back on all the memories we’ve had and I think it will be fun for us seniors, the whole team and for the parents,” Simonelli said. “I think everyone is looking forward to it and we should have another great crowd this weekend. It should be a fun atmosphere.”
UW senior forward Keegan Meuer is another senior looking forward to the weekend, especially since he has been a part of the team longer than any other current player. Meuer hasn’t put much thought into what the weekend is going to entail, but he knows the experience will be surreal.
“I haven’t really thought about it. My whole family is going to be here. That’s going to be something special to me, having them all out on the ice with me because I definitely didn’t get here by myself,” Meuer said. “Being able to share those few moments on the ice with them senior weekend that will be pretty special.”
Even though this weekend is a celebration of the seniors, Meuer, Simonelli and the rest of the seniors know that the important thing is to come out of the weekend with two victories.
Michigan State has given up the most shots on goal of any Big Ten team this season with 955, and the Badgers have stressed the importance of getting a lot of shots up, and have looked at that as a key to victory all season. They hope to get a lot of shots up this weekend and make the Spartans’ young goaltender work.
“Every weekend we want to outshoot our opponents and I think it’s a big factor for us. I don’t know what the stats are, but I know we get a lot of wins when we put up 35 to 45 shots. That’s key for us,” Meuer said. “We want to put a lot of pucks on net and take away the goaltender’s eyes. We are really going to have to shoot the puck and put a lot of rubber on him.”
While the Badgers struggled to get off to a good start last Friday, as they gave up two goals to Ohio State in the first period, they are hoping that changes this Friday. Simonelli believes that a good start Friday will help carry them throughout the rest of the weekend.
“One thing we have talked about in the locker room is we want to have better starts on Friday nights,” Simonelli said. “Our Fridays have been in a little bit of a lull this season and coming down the stretch here, you can’t afford that. It’s one point emphasis for sure this week that we come out with a bang on Friday night and get the weekend rolling.”