Men's hockey

Wisconsin looking to avoid home letdown against Michigan State

Without the services of star freshman defenseman K'Andre Miller, Wisconsin's defense will have to step up against the Fighting Irish.

Without the services of star freshman defenseman K'Andre Miller, Wisconsin's defense will have to step up against the Fighting Irish.

Image By: Téalin Robinson

In the two-plus seasons since head coach Tony Granato took the program’s reins, Wisconsin’s men’s hockey team has been defined as much by the depth of its lows as by the height of its highs.

The Badgers have claimed a win over the country’s top team and suffered an embarrassing home loss against one of the worst. Last season, they were the only team in the Big Ten to beat all six of the conference’s other teams, but also suffered a loss against all six as well.

Coming off a win over No. 6 Penn State that showed what its capable of at its best, Wisconsin (2-3-3 Big Ten, 6-7-3 overall) will have an opportunity to show that it can avoid the slip ups of past teams against Michigan State (2-3-1, 6-7-1) this weekend.

The Spartans entered the year expected to be once again the conference’s last-place team, but that status hasn’t stopped them from causing the Badgers headaches in past matchups. Two of Michigan State’s six conference wins came against Wisconsin, including a 2-0 win at the Kohl Center.

Wisconsin’s struggles against opponents at the bottom of the standings has been indicative of a larger inconsistency, one that the Badgers are hoping to combat in all its forms.

“It’s just sticking to our gameplan. That’s been in all honesty the biggest thing since I was a freshman here, playing 60 minutes,” senior forward Will Johnson said. “Being able to play 60 minutes is really tough… that’s all it is, our game is great, our players are great, our coach is great, we just gotta stick to our gameplan.”

Wisconsin has played well for stretches in Big Ten play, but has struggled at times to turn those performances into points and wins. Yet despite taking eight games to collect their second conference win, the Badgers sit fourth in the standings and just six points back of conference leader Ohio State — within a single weekend’s striking range.

If the Badgers are going to compete for a top-half place in the Big Ten and a tournament berth, both marks the team has enough talent to achieve, they’ll need to make a habit of getting two wins in series against inferior opponents. Wisconsin has just one sweep in its last 27 series, and its made a habit of dropping the first game of the weekend too often this season.

“We need to prepare better in our practices, compete a little harder [to be ready for Friday games],” senior captain Peter Tischke said before the team’s matchup with Minnesota. The Badgers are winless in four Friday games since.

“The one thing we said earlier in the season is that the youth leads to lots of unpredictability,” Granato said. “That’s part of the growing process.”

There are signs that Wisconsin’s young core is improving on its consistency. The Badgers have only one win in their last four games, but have not lost in that span either, and have eliminated the letdown performances that have defined their play over the past three years.

The Badgers have looked poised to move beyond their shortcomings numerous times in the past three seasons, and each time they’ve quickly dispelled those notions. This weekend’s series can’t solve those issues once and for all, but doing their job against the Spartans will mark a major step forward.

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