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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Big Ten championship slips through Badgers’ hands in loss to MSU

The Badgers fell 5-2 to the Spartans Friday, losing out on a chance to win the Big Ten regular season championship.

The No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers men’s hockey team’s championship hopes were extinguished Friday in a 5-2 defeat to the No. 6 Michigan State University Spartans (MSU) at home.

The Badgers needed to win both games this weekend to win the championship. With the victory, the Spartans win their first outright Big Ten regular season championship in program history.

The game started almost too good to be true for Wisconsin. Ben Dexheimer checked a Spartan into the Badger bench five seconds in, and Daniel Laatsch opened the scoring seconds later with a long shot that MSU’s Trey Augustine only saw once it was in his net. 

From there, it seems nerves got to the Badgers. Kyle McClellan, the usual backbone of the team, cracked under the pressure. He missed a curveball of a shot that hit his glove and went in to tie the game at one.

The pressure got to the Badgers again as Dexheimer ran into Simon Tassy in the neutral zone later in the period ​​to turn the puck over to MSU. The Spartans seldom miss that kind of opportunity and, sure enough, Jeremy Davidson one-timed it into the net on the 2-on-1 to give the Spartans a 2-1 lead.

Despite outshooting MSU 19-7 in the first period, the Badgers failed to break a solid Augustine in net, who, like McClellan, is a semi-finalist for the Mike Richter Award.

The Badgers continued to pepper Augustine with shots in period two, outshooting MSU 15-7 in the period. One of those shots found its way past Augustine on a Badger power play as MSU served a five-minute major penalty for boarding. Forward Mathieu De St. Phalle tipped the long shot from ​​Dexheimer in front into the net to even the game at two.

MSU broke the tie with seven minutes to play in the third period. After killing off two-straight penalties, the Badgers couldn't recover on a slow line change to stop Reed Lebster’s relentless drive to the crease. He beat McClellan under the pad to put MSU up by one.

“This group has done a good job of looking in the mirror when things haven't resulted in what they wanted to,” Badgers head coach Mike Hastings said after the game. “You have to tip your cap to [MSU], and we need to turn the page in a hurry because you got another one tomorrow.”

The Badgers pulled their goaltender with 2:00 left, and MSU sealed the deal with two empty net goals to end the game 5-2, though a score line of 3-2 — maybe even 4-2 — is more representative of how the game went down.

“[We’ve got to have] that short-term memory. I think we've done a good job of it all year,” De St. Phalle said after the game. “Just keeping that bench up, keeping it lively and positive energy.” 

The Trey Augustine Effect

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There’s no question the Badgers were the better team offensively. They outshot the Spartans 46-26 by the end of the game. But the difference maker was undoubtedly Augustine, the Spartans’ goaltender. 

The freshman has been drawing eyes all season long, and he came up huge Friday with a 0.957 save percentage. He saved 44 of 46 Badger shots on net.

The Badgers aren’t without fault. The first two MSU goals were arguably preventable. Turnovers have burned the Badgers all season long, and after Friday, the embers on that fire are still hot.

“You find out the most about yourselves and others during times of adversity, and we didn’t get it done tonight. They did,” Hastings said. “We’ve got to rinse and get right back after it because I can tell you this: [Michigan] State is going to be pretty excited about playing tomorrow.” 

With Friday’s loss, the Badgers are set to host the Ohio State Buckeyes in Madison next weekend as they start the playoffs. Before that, they’ll play game two of the MSU series Saturday night at 8 p.m. 

Though the regular season championship is now out of reach, the Badgers still have plenty to fight for Saturday, including positioning themselves to make the NCAA playoffs.

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Ian Wilder

Ian Wilder is a Sports Editor and former senior staff writer for The Daily Cardinal. He’s formerly covered the men’s hockey beat, state politics and features. Follow him on Twitter at @IanWWilder.

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