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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Wisconsin squanders momentum with back-to-back Penn State losses

After claiming their first two wins of the season against a top ten team, Wisconsin dropped two games to Penn State in an unimpressive fashion, only mustering one point all weekend.

On the heels of a potentially season-altering sweep of No. 10 Minnesota Duluth, the Wisconsin Badgers (2-6-0, 0-4-0 Big Ten) returned home looking to build upon their newfound success. The No. 16 Penn State Nittany Lions (8-0-0, 2-0-0) had other plans, sweeping the weekend-series in dominant fashion. 

Despite claiming an early lead in Friday’s contest, the Badgers found themselves on the losing end of a defensive slugfest, falling to Penn State 2-1.

Wisconsin wasted little time before netting their first goal of the night — a redirection by captain Dominick Mersch at 3:41 in the first period. Moments after winning a puck battle near center ice, sophomore Liam Malmquist dumped the puck deep into Penn State’s zone, where it was collected by Mersch. The forward sent it along the left boards to teammate Sam Stange, who uncorked a point shot that Mersch tipped in through the goalie’s pads to put the Badgers up, 1-0.

Penn State evened the score ten minutes later thanks to freshman Jarod Crespo and senior Kevin Wall. With 6:08 left in the first, Crespo fired a shot from the high slot that deflected off Wall’s skate and past UW goalie Jared Moe. The goal, which tied the game at one apiece, broke Moe’s streak of 61 consecutive saves at even strength.

The Nittany Lions built upon their newfound momentum as the first period drew to a close, recording the final 12 shot attempts of the period en route to skating off the ice with a 12-7 SOG advantage. The second bore similar results, as Tyler Paquette buried a goal at 3:02 in the period to put Penn State up, 2-1.

Following a faceoff loss by Mersch in the Badgers’ defensive zone, Paquette corralled the puck near the boards and skated it below the goal line. The forward wristed an ill-advised shot on goal out of desperation, but was pleased when the puck took a fortunate bounce and careened off Moe’s skate into the back of the net.

Later in the second, Wisconsin wasted a golden opportunity to equalize the contest and reclaim some of the momentum they’d lost. The Badgers found themselves in a 4-on-1 rush, though were unable to capitalize on the scoring chance after junior Mathieu De St. Phalle’s pass went awry. Mersch additionally had an opportunity to score in the period — forcing a turnover and making it a breakaway – but was stopped by PSU goaltender Liam Souliere.

With 10:59 left in the period, UW’s Charlie Stramel was issued a tripping penalty in the neutral zone. The freshman center did not take kindly to the call, expressing his anger by cross-checking a Penn State player. The outburst tacked on another two minutes to Stramel’s time in the penalty box and earned him a seat on the bench for the remainder of the game.

“Young mistake,” Badgers coach Tony Granato said of the undisciplined penalty. “[Stramel is] a big, physical kid. That was not the right time for that penalty or that play.”

The Badgers had one last chance to tie the game in the closing minutes of the third period. Shortly after Moe was pulled for an extra attacker, PSU’s Connor MacEachern was assessed a hooking penalty at 1:23. Despite having the 6-on-4 advantage, UW could only muster one shot on goal during the power play, ultimately losing the contest 2-1.

Wisconsin’s struggles carried over into Saturday night as Penn State jumped out to a lead just minutes into the first. PSU’s Connor McMenamin needed little help on the scoring effort, recovering his shot’s rebound before wrapping around the net and roofing the puck into the short-side top corner at 2:59. 

Despite the early 1-0 deficit, Wisconsin controlled the pace of play for much of the first, leaving the period with both the faceoff (18-9) and shot (15-12) advantages. Moe’s strong play in goal kept the Badgers in contention, as the senior recorded 17 saves in the second en route to saving 39 shots in the game. The admirable performance marked Moe’s fourth consecutive game with 35 or more saves.

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Following a scoreless second period, De St. Phalle was sent to the penalty box for high sticking – his second penalty of the night – with 19:20 left in the third. The mistake soon proved costly, as PSU’s Ashton Calder buried a shot from the right circle less than 20 seconds later to extend the Nittany Lions lead, 2-0.

Ensuing goals by PSU’s Xander Lamppa and Connor MacEachern squandered any hopes of a Badgers comeback and capped off the lopsided 4-0 score. 

“One goal on the weekend ... is not going to win us a whole lot of games,” Mersch said. “We've got to find a way to generate more and help our goaltender out.”

Over the Badgers’ first four home games, they’ve only been able to score three goals, an undesirable feat they haven’t accomplished since 1927. Wisconsin will hope for better results next week when they travel to East Lansing to take on Michigan State. Games are scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 4 and TBA on Saturday, Nov. 5.  

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