The No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey team swept the No. 17 Penn State Nittany Lions in a two-game series Friday and Saturday for their second straight Big Ten sweep.
The Badgers came off a strong series sweep against the Ohio State Buckeyes last week and carried that momentum into the series against Penn State to overcome two strong performances from the Nittany Lions. The Badgers extended their season record to 14-4-0 and their Big Ten record to 8-2-0.
With Saturday’s win, the Badgers carry a four-game win streak into an almost three-week break.
The two teams combined for nine goals in game one, but the Badgers came out on top 6-3. It’s the first time an otherwise dominant Kyle McClellan allowed three goals since Nov. 18.
As the Badgers have seen all season, every line found ways to contribute to the win. Carson Bantle scored one goal each period off the third line for a hat trick, the Badgers’ first of the season.
“It’s been a while since I’ve got [a hat trick], probably since squirts,” Bantle said after game one. “I thought we played a good game as a team, and, overall, I think it was a good step.”
Charlie Stramel found three assists for points off the fourth line. Stramel came into the game with one point on a goal but played fiercely to find his first three assists of the season.
“We hope the [production from all lines] can continue,” head coach Mike Hastings said during a press conference after game one. “For us to be a really big team at home and on the road, if you can play with depth and have depth scoring, you’re a much harder match.”
Wisconsin controlled the second period, scoring two unanswered goals to take a 4-1 lead into the third period. The Badgers’ only stumble in the game came in the third period. They added a goal early as William Whitelaw scored his second of the game. However, the Nittany Lions tried to claw back into the game, reducing the deficit to 5-3 with two unanswered goals.
Despite that, the Badgers managed to seal the victory as Bantle completed the hat trick on the power play to end game one, 6-3.
William Gramme started in game two instead of McClellan, who has started most games for the Badgers. Penn State scored a minute into the game, rattling the Badgers. The Badgers equalized later in the period as defenseman Anthony Kehrer notched his first goal of the season.
“After that first five minutes, I didn’t know what we were going to be in for,” Hastings said after game two. “Then when Kehrer scores that goal, this building lights up a little bit and all of a sudden there was some energy that I think our club drew from on the bench, and from that point I thought we played better.”
“It’s always nice scoring a goal, and it’s been a while,” Kehrer said after the game. “Not really my game but whenever it goes in, it’s pretty exciting to do at home this week against Penn State is pretty awesome.”
Finding level footing, the Badgers were able to retake control of the game as Christian Fitzgerald scored off a nice pass from Whitelaw in the second to take a 2-1 lead.
The Badgers only further sealed the game from there. Charlie Stramel scored in period three after a good game the night before, and Jack Horbach sealed the deal on the empty net with milliseconds left to finish the game 4-1.
William Gramme secured his second win this season on his second start after putting up a shutout in his first NCAA start a couple of weeks ago against Alaska Anchorage.
“We were walking off the ice [Friday] night and I looked at him and said ‘you’re going tomorrow’ and he’s such an appreciative kid, but, to me, he went out and did his business,” Hastings said of Gramme after the game.
The Badgers will have some time off before returning to play in the Kwik Trip Holiday Face-off on Dec. 28th at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. Their next Big Ten series isn’t until Jan. 5th against Notre Dame in South Bend.
Hastings hopes they use that time to focus on the things that are “a little bit more important than hockey.”
“They need to unplug a little bit. Our season is longer than any sport in college athletics and they’ve poured a lot into this first half,” Hastings said. “So start focusing a little bit on the academic piece, but then really recharge a little bit, take a breath, focus on family and academics. We’ll get back to work when we need to.”
Wisconsin won’t play back home at the Kohl Center for over a month, with their next home game scheduled for Jan. 12 against Lindenwood.
Ian Wilder is a senior staff writer and current men’s hockey beat reporter for The Daily Cardinal. He’s a former state politics and features reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.