Continuing their four-game homestand, No. 11 Michigan State hockey is gearing up for a big series this weekend against No. 1 Wisconsin.
The Spartans earned four of six possible points after a 3-3 tie that led to a shootout loss on Friday, and storming back with a 5-3 victory on Saturday. While the series had some positives for the Spartans, the team had struggles with slow starts on both nights and are still working towards their goal of playing a full 60 minutes.
“We took a step in that area, understanding that in different games you’re going to look different and play different ways,” head coach Adam Nightingale said. “With our group, we are trying to teach them that.”
The all-sophomore top line of Karsen Dorwart, Isaac Howard, and Daniel Russell had another productive series as the top-producing line for the third week in a row. Dorwart currently has a team-best 11-game streak with at least one point, whereas Howard is just behind him with 10 games. Freshman Gavin O’Connell also had a big weekend with another two-goal game on Saturday night. O’Connell now sits on top with a team lead of eight goals and is second in the nation with three game-winning goals.
“The most exciting part is actually that we have a winning record and we can be way better,” alternate captain Nico Müller said. “We still are not at our best.”
The Spartans are also seeing success from the blue line, especially in the freshmen. Arytom Levshunov had a goal and an assist in the Penn State series. Levshunov currently leads the freshmen on the team with 12 points, O’Connell right behind him with 11. Patrick Geary saw his third consecutive game on a pairing with Matt Basgall and had a short-handed goal on Friday against Penn State for the Spartans first goal of the night. Michigan State may lead the conference, with 64 penalties on the season, but they also lead with four short-handed goals.
“Obviously we want to stay out of the box, but when it happens we are gonna kill it off,” captain Nash Nienhuis said. “If an opportunity presents itself to get offense we are going to go for it.”
While Wisconsin had a week off last week, they have made a statement in college hockey to start this season under first-year head coach Mike Hastings. The Badgers started the season picked fifth in the Big Ten Preseason polls and unranked in the USCHO preseason polls. However, that did not last long due to Wisconsin’s hot start. The Badgers come into this series on a winning streak, with three back-to-back sweeps against No. 17 Michigan Tech, No. 1 Minnesota, and No. 4 Michigan.
In Wisconsin’s last series against Michigan, Mathieu De St Phalle, who leads the Badgers 12 points, had his sixth career game-winning goal with 6.5 seconds left in the second game. Owen Lindmark also had a big weekend after missing five games from injury, he had two goals, including the game-winner in game one, and took the conference lead in goals per game.
With both the Badgers and the Spartans working on building programs under a new staff, there is a lot to look forward to in this matchup. While Wisconsin is on a hot streak, Michigan State has been building their young team up. The Spartans have the record and the players to compete with the Badgers but are still working on developing their game. Their last top-five matchup against BC showed that the Spartans had the grit, but there were still areas for improvement. This series is a chance for Michigan State to make a statement.
“Every program has different challenges to get to where they want to get to,” Nightingale said. “We’ve taken huge steps in a year and a half here, but we are not to where we want to get to and we got an opportunity this week.”
The teams face off on Friday at 7:30 pm and Saturday at 6 pm at Munn Ice Arena.