The University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team (11-16-5, 7-10-5-2 Big Ten) split their two-game series at No. 19 Penn State (18-12-2, 10-11-1-1) this weekend. The series split marks the Badgers’ second in a row and now finds them ranked sixth in the Big Ten with just two games remaining.
The first game of the two was one to forget for the Badgers.
Head Coach Tony Granato’s team came out of the gates slow, conceding two goals to the Nittany Lions in the first period. After tying the game midway through the second frame, the Badgers fell flat again, surrendering six unanswered goals to finish with an 8–2 loss.
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Forward Mick Messner added a tally to his freshmen-leading seven goals this season, and Philadelphia Flyers draft selection Wyatt Kalynuk scored his fifth point over his last eight contests. But Granato was not pleased.
“That was about as far as you could get from being a good hockey game,” Granato said. “We needed to make some big plays. We gave up plays coming into on our end. There was a lack of compete and energy and work getting to the puck. It hasn’t been an issue before, but tonight we were not ready to play a good team.”
The good news for Granato: Saturday’s contest was a different story.
Needing a win to rise from last place in the conference, the Badgers came out hot with five unanswered goals to begin the game. Penn State then scored two straight to end the second period, but the Badgers rebounded nicely to close things out, earning a 7–3 victory.
Sophomore defenseman Josh Ess notched his first career multi-goal game and joined Linus Weissbach as the only Badgers to record three points in the contest.
“It was a big bounce back from last night,” Ess said. “We didn’t play so hot last night and they kind of ran over us. So to come out like that and have the response that we did, it’s a huge, huge confidence builder.”
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The victory was vital for Wisconsin, vaulting them over Michigan State into sixth place in the conference. They now sit four points behind fifth place Penn State with two games left in the regular season.
The Badgers and Nittany Lions will play Michigan and Notre Dame this weekend, respectively, two teams that are currently tied for third place in the Big Ten.
If the Badgers are able to come away with a series victory at home, and if Penn State were to struggle against Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, the Badgers would jump to fifth place in the Big Ten and avoid playing powerhouses Minnesota or Ohio State early in the Big Ten tournament.