The University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team (7-8-1, 2-5-1 Big Ten) will travel to East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans (6-7-1, 4-3-1) in a weekend series that spans Friday and Saturday night.
After winning just one of their last five games, this is a crucial road trip if the Badgers want to stay inside the top 20.
As of right now, they’re ranked No. 19 in the country but are the only ranked team without a winning record. Against an unranked Spartan squad, they’ll likely need to sweep the series if they want to hold their spot.
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Michigan State is led by senior goalkeeper John Lethemon, whose 94% save rate is the best in the Big Ten and fourth-best in the country.
Lethemon gives the Spartans a big boost when they’re down a man on the power play, and has helped them obtain a conference-best 89.5% penalty kill rate.
They’re stellar on the defensive end and have allowed just 2.5 goals per game. But their offense is relatively average, which means Wisconsin can push the puck and fire away on goal without having to worry too much about a star on the other side.
The Spartans’ leading scorer, senior Patrick Khodorenko, has six goals on the season to go along with seven assists. As a whole, the squad is averaging just 2.4 goals per game, and Wisconsin is undefeated this year when allowing two or less, meaning it should be a favorable matchup.
Leading the way for Wisconsin’s offensive attack are freshman sensations Cole Caufield and Alex Turcotte.
Caufield, who scored his conference-leading tenth goal of the season last Sunday, has been on a tear all year. He sits atop the Badgers’ scoring leaderboard with 18 points.
Despite a quiet string of outings from Turcotte — he hasn’t recorded a point since Nov. 16 — he still remains one of Wisconsin’s top options, and is tied for second in goals (6) and third in points (15).
They’re paired up with the maestro of the team, Linus Weissbach, who has a team-high 13 assists on the year, to round out the front line.
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On the defensive end, Wisconsin will hope K’Andre Miller and team captain Wyatt Kalynuk can hold off the Spartan attack as the offense goes to work.
The duo isn’t too shabby around the net either, as Miller has scored five goals and Kalynuk three of his own. There’s only been two games in which one of them hasn’t recorded a point. Between Miller and Kalynuk, they’ve combined for 24 points on the year.
Between the posts for the Badgers is Daniel Lebedeff, who has had an up-and-down campaign to this point. His 89.9% save rate is good but not great, and holding the Spartans under two goals would be huge for his confidence.
Expect the Badgers to pressure the net and leak out for fast break opportunities. It may leave Lebedeff one-on-one a few times, but as long as he can buckle down and make a few big saves, Wisconsin should win the series.
You can catch Friday’s game on BTN+ and on WIBA at 6 p.m. Saturday’s matchup will also be on BTN+ at 6 p.m. but broadcast on WTSO. You can also follow along live @BadgerMHockey on Twitter.