The University of Wisconsin men's hockey team (8-6) has been on somewhat of a hot streak after coming back from the holiday break, holding a 3-1 record so far in January. Wisconsin will look to continue that success in the upcoming road series with the Penn State University Nittany Lions (7-7).
Wisconsin’s biggest win of the season came during their series with No. 1 Minnesota in the Border Battle, where the Badgers handed Minnesota their first loss of the season before dropping the second game and ending the series on a split.
Wisconsin then would go on to sweep a rematch with Arizona State, avenging their November losses to the Sun Devils in which the Badgers were outscored 11-6 over the two games. This time, the tide turned tremendously in Wisconsin’s favor as they outscored Arizona State 9-2.
Wisconsin’s earlier loss to the Sun Devils can be largely explained away to how shorthanded they were — they were missing multiple players due to COVID-19, practice for the World Junior’s Championship and assorted injuries. Wisconsin was playing multiple players in that series out of their natural positions and the loss can be allocated to that reason.
Nevertheless, Wisconsin has looked like a much more formidable team the last few weeks, and the biggest reason for their recent success is that they are at full strength for the first time in months. The Badgers had a lot of day-to-day roster changes in the first two months of the season due to injury and the pandemic, much like many other teams in the conference.
However, one might argue that the stellar play from players lower on the depth chart could be attributed to the frequent roster churning where younger players can be forced to play more significant minutes, all of which helps to strengthen the depth of this hockey team. One testament to this depth is that each of the nine goals scored in the recent series with Arizona State were scored by nine different players.
If Wisconsin is going to continue this recent path of success, it will be on the back of a roster that is sporting an unusual abundance of experience consistent with the unpredictable nature of this season.
Even though some of the box scores may list some more unknown players, Wisconsin is ranked second in the Big Ten in large part due to the contributions of star Cole Caufield. The reigning Big Ten scoring title-holder leads all players in just Big Ten action with his seven goals and 14 points in 10 games.
Another significant offensive contributor is senior forward Linus Weissbach. Weissbach is tied with Caufield with the conference scoring lead with 17 points, with Weissbach scoring seven goals and ten assists. The dynamic duo has helped Wisconsin average 3.5 goals per game, second best in the conference behind the previously mentioned Minnesota Gophers.
Wisconsin will not be labeled a one-dimensional team, however, as they have had strong performances from freshman goaltender Cameron Rowe, graduate transfer Robbie Beydoun, and senior defenseman Tyler Inamato, to name a few major contributors.
Cameron Rowe was recognized by the Big Ten as the third star of the week. The Wilmette, Illinois native earned the mark after notching his first shutout in Saturday’s game with ASU and finished the series with 34 saves on a .944 save percentage.
Looking at the upcoming series with Penn State, Wisconsin will be up against history as they seek to notch a season sweep of the Nittany Lions. Wisconsin trails PSU 15-20-3 all-time and has lost four straight games in series played at Pegula Ice Arena.
However, Wisconsin should be favored in the upcoming series as Penn State has looked nowhere near the dominance they displayed last season when they won the Big Ten title. Penn State has been outscored on the year 50-43, whereas Wisconsin has outscored their opponents 49-40.
Wisconsin’s star Cole Caufield notched a four-goal weekend the last time these two teams met on the ice of LaBahn Arena as well as his second career hat-trick with three goals scored on the Nov. 24 game.
Freshman defenseman Anthony Kehrer posted a pair of multi-assist games when Wisconsin met Penn State in November, which account for all of his offense through 14 games this season.
Wisconsin fans should watch for Nittany Lions Alex Limoges and Kevin Wall to lead the offense for Penn State as they are tied for a team-high fourteen points. Penn State’s goalies, Liam Souliere and Oskar Autio sport a .850 and .830 save percentage, respectively. Since the break, Penn State has scored sixteen goals and allowed sixteen goals against over a 4-2 stretch, splitting series with Michigan State and Ohio State before eventually sweeping the Spartans in a rematch.
Wisconsin men’s hockey returns to Big Ten play this week with games Thursday and Friday at Penn State’s Pegula Ice Arena. Both games are set for 5 p.m. CT starts and you can catch the games on BTN+ and on the Badger Radio Network, including 1310 WIBA in the Madison a