After a rollercoaster week that saw Wisconsin men’s hockey nationally ranked for the first time since October 2014 and two-time national title-winning coach Jeff Sauer pass away Thursday from pancreatic cancer, the Badgers went into East Lansing looking to keep pace atop the Big Ten.
Wisconsin (15-8-1 overall, 8-2-0-0 Big Ten) did just that, following up a convincing 6-3 win on Friday with a 4-3 overtime victory on Saturday to complete the season sweep of the last-place Spartans (5-17-2 overall, 1-8-1-0 Big Ten).
Sophomore captain Luke Kunin got the scoring started Saturday for the Badgers, netting a shorthanded goal at 18:09 in the first period after an apparent Michigan State goal was disallowed. It was Kunin’s team-leading 17th goal of the season.
The Spartans pulled one back at 8:13 of the second period before going up 2-1 on Joe Cox’s tally at 15:51 into the frame.
Michigan State carried the lead into the third period before Trent Frederic tied the game off a Cameron Hughes pass at 6:58. It was the freshman’s 10th goal of the season and Frederic’s 1.28 points per game are a team high.
Five minutes later, Hughes put the Badgers up 3-2 with a slick redirect of a Seamus Malone shot on Michigan State freshman goaltender John Lethemon. It was Hughes’s sixth goal of the season.
For the second straight Saturday, the Badgers and Jurusik were unable to hold a late lead. After MSU pulled Lethemon, the Spartans’ Brennan Sanford put one past the sophomore with just 1:07 left in the game to send it to overtime.
Just as they did last Saturday against Ohio State, the resilient Badgers came through in the extra period. Jake Linhart got the overtime winner off a Seamus Malone pass from behind the Spartans’ net. It was Linhart’s third goal of the year.
With the win, the Badgers kept pace with co-Big Ten leaders No. 7 Minnesota (17-7-2 overall, 8-2-0-0 Big Ten) at the midway point in the Big Ten season. The Gophers completed a convincing sweep of No. 6/No. 4 Penn State (16-6-2 overall, 5-4-1-0) this weekend in Minneapolis, 5-1 and 5-2.
Penn State comes to Madison this weekend for a two-game series starting Friday. Both teams find themselves in the top 16 in the NCAA Pairwise rankings and a win or two against the Nittany Lions would be very beneficial to Wisconsin’s growing national profile and postseason hopes.