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Thursday, May 30, 2024
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Badgers pull off yet another unlikely split, end regular season against No. 10 Penn State

In the final series of the regular season, Wisconsin traveled to State College to receive a brutal beatdown on Friday before responding with an unlikely win on Saturday.

Wisconsin hasn’t taken a football snap at Camp Randall in over three months — though it appears their hockey counterparts are also a second half team. 

The Badgers (13-21-0, 6-18-0 Big Ten) looked noncompetitive in their series-opener at No. 10 Penn State, only discovering their skating legs in a subsequent upset victory over the Nittany Lions (20-13-1, 10-13-1).

The recent results may sound like a broken record to Badger faithful, and rightfully so. In Wisconsin’s last three series-splits, they lost in ugly fashion the first night, later pulling off a miraculous win the following night. All came against Big Ten opponents ranked within the top 20 in the nation. The Badgers were blown out 16-4 in these series-openers, yet outscored the opposition 11-4 in their second go-around.

Friday’s contest was no exception, as the Nittany Lions scored six unanswered goals in the first two periods en route to a 6-1 victory.

It took all of 14 seconds for Penn State to claim a lead they’d never let go of. Ture Linden won an offensive zone draw and directed the puck to teammate Ashton Calder. The forward then fed Danny Dzhaniyev, whose tap-in shot from the edge of the crease inched past goaltender Jared Moe and gave the Nittany Lions a 1-0 lead.

Linden added two more scores — the first being a power-play goal — before the opening frame came to an end. 

The Badgers had no answer to Penn State’s early scoring barrage, largely due to the absence of forward Cruz Lucius. Wisconsin’s leading scorer (31) was scratched from the game for undisclosed reasons.

Penn State picked up right where they left off in the second period, notching three more goals with ease. Tyler Gratton, Connor McMenamin and Simon Mack provided the scores at 3:02, 10:38 and 16:30, respectively.

Brock Caufield finally managed to get the Badgers on the board at the midway point of the closing frame. Carson Bantle threaded a cross-zone feed to the fifth-year forward, who hammered it home for the backdoor PPG. 

Caufield’s goal was his career-high 11th of the season, crowning him UW’s leading goal-scorer. His brother Cole led the Badgers with 19 goals in 2019-20 and 30 goals in 2020-21, making the pair just the second brother tandem to lead Wisconsin in goal-scoring.


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Saturday

The Badgers salvaged a series-split Saturday night, ending the regular season with a 2-1 win. 

Wisconsin relied upon a tried-and-tested formula that brought them success in low-scoring contests in the past. Their stellar play in net and unwavering penalty kill were just enough to squeak past Penn State in the defensive dogfight.

On the heels of surrendering five goals on 13 shots in last weekend’s loss to Michigan State, UW goalie Kyle McClellan rebounded with the best performance of his career. The Mercyhurst transfer stood tall in net all game, tying his career high with 47 saves.

Additionally, the Badger blueliners played well, killing two five-minute major penalties and six two-minute minor infractions. Corson Ceulemans led the pack with five of Wisconsin’s 13 blocks on the night.

Ceulemans displayed his offensive prowess at 12:33 in the first period. While on the power play, the Badgers spread the puck around the Nittany Lions’ zone searching for an opening. Bantle eventually found Ceulemans below the near circle, where the defenseman one-timed a shot home for a 1-0 lead.

Penn State evened the score at one with 8:57 left in the middle frame. Christian Berger led an offensive rush up the ice and connected with McMenamin in the Badgers’ zone. The forward did the rest, burying his second goal of the series. 

Wisconsin proved their resilience, retaliating with a final score at 6:19 in the third period. Zach Urdahl intercepted Penn State’s exit feed and backhanded the puck over to Mathieu De St Phalle. The junior skated the puck towards the net and ripped it over goaltender Liam Souliere’s shoulder to reclaim the lead, 2-1.

McClellan provided the finishing touches, stopping 22 shots in the closing frame to ensure a Badger victory. The Big Ten regular-season road win marks Wisconsin’s first in 22 tries, dating back to Oct. 29, 2021 when they defeated the Michigan Wolverines.

The Badgers ended their season strong, proving they can hang with the contenders. They’ll now be tested on a bigger stage, as they travel to Ann Arbor to take on No. 4 Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals. Puck drop is slated for 6 p.m. on Friday, March 3 and Saturday, March 4. An additional game will be played on Sunday if needed in the best-of-three series.

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