Weekend Hockey Preview: No. 5 Wisconsin vs. MSU

For the last weekend of the regular season, the Michigan State Spartans (10-16-7) welcome the No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers (21-9-2) to East Lansing this Friday and Saturday. With senior night fast approaching, it will be an emotional weekend for the Spartans who look to build up their confidence and rhythm going into the Big Ten Tournament.

The Wisconsin Badgers are coming off an exceptional weekend, grabbing five out of six points against the Penn State Nittany Lions. They are still chasing No. 1 Minnesota for the Big Ten regular season championship. However, the Badgers are five points behind the Gophers and will need to have a perfect weekend (and a Michigan sweep of Minnesota) in order to jump to No. 1.

While that scenario seems unlikely, the Badgers will certainly try.

The Michigan State Spartans, on the other hand, are coming off a very emotional weekend. One which saw them play both their worst and best hockey in back-to back-games against No. 13 Michigan. MSU now knows that it can get offensive production, as they scored three unanswered goals in their win against Michigan, and their power play has started to show signs of life.

The only real question is: who will tend the net for MSU?

Sophomore Jake Hildebrand has been the go-to guy for most of the season boasting a .925 save percentage in 30 games played. Senior Will Yanakeff is the current hot hand and has a .925 save percentage in only five games played. While Yanakeff seems like the immediate answer, Hildebrand has been solid for most of the season.

Coach Tom Anastos indicated that he would probably play both goaltenders this weekend, most likely Hildebrand Friday and Yanakeff Saturday. Anastos probably wants to give Hildebrand a chance to rebound after a bad weekend but, at the same time, give him a short leash. At this point, the goaltending job is Hildebrand’s to lose.

This weekend will be the last time the seniors play at Munn Ice Arena. Emotions will be high, especially on Saturday, but one cannot lose sight of the task at hand. The matchups are already set for the postseason, barring any major upsets, so this series against Wisconsin is all about building confidence and character.

Jason Ruff is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.

Photo: Jonathan Yales/Impact Sports