Men's Hockey: Badgers search for first conference win against Buckeyes

The last time they met, the Wisconsin Badgers and the Ohio State Buckeyes were competing for conference supremacy in the Big Ten tournament championship game.

Now, almost a year later, the teams are the lowliest in the Big Ten, occupying the bottom two spots in the conference standings.

“We’re both kind of in the same situation,” said Badger senior forward and captain Brad Navin.

Wisconsin (0-8-2 Big Ten, 2-18-4 overall) will head to Columbus looking for its first regulation win in 10 games. Ohio State (2-8-0, 7-15-2) has struggled similarly down the stretch, losing six games in a row, including a 10-6 home loss at the hands of first-place Michigan.

With about a month left in the season, the matchup between the two flailing squads may just come down to desperation.

“They’re looking at this weekend, like we are, as a bounce-back weekend,” said UW redshirt sophomore forward Morgan Zulinick. “We’re both struggling a little bit right now and I’m pretty sure we’re both thinking that this is the weekend we’re going to get two wins.”

The Badgers recently suffered conference losses against Minnesota and at Penn State. In both series, they struggled to hold leads and allowed their opponents to score multiple unanswered goals.

However, Wisconsin has several stats that fall in its favor against Ohio State. The Buckeyes are 2-7-0 at home and have the worst penalty kill percentage in the nation at 71.8. In each of their only two wins, the Badgers scored on the man advantage, which may be their key to at least one road win this weekend.

Another positive for UW? Friday’s game will be just the second matchup of its season against a team with a losing record at the time of the contest.

“We’re getting close here,” Zulinick said. “Teams are telling us that we’re hard to play against, so I think we’re getting closer and closer [to winning].”

The Buckeyes are notably different since the last time they played the Badgers. Star junior forwards Max McCormick and Ryan Dzingel opted to enter the NHL after last season, leaving an 81-point gap in OSU’s offense.

Ohio State’s two sophomore goaltenders, Christian Frey and Matt Tomkins, boasted goals-against-averages of 2.27 and 2.78 last season, respectively. This year, those GAAs have ballooned to 3.39 and 3.56.

As Wisconsin hockey fans know, the Badgers have also had their share of challenges this year. But the freshman class has improved immensely since the beginning of the season, and the scoresheets are starting to reflect it. Freshman Badgers had a hand in 16 of the last 32 Wisconsin goals, including eight goals of their own.

“[The freshmen] are becoming more comfortable around the older guys,” Navin said. “It’s not just the juniors and seniors that are doing the talking in the locker room. They’re not afraid to speak up now and give words of encouragement or ask for help.”

Wisconsin will face off against Ohio State Friday at 5:30 p.m. in hopes of securing its first conference win. Friday’s game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network. Saturday’s puck drop will be at 6 p.m.

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