Michigan State opened up their five-game road trip, and 2017, with a lackluster loss to the Wisconsin Badgers on Friday night in Madison.
Coming off an overtime loss to rival Michigan in the GLI, the Spartans hoped to start off the second half of the season strong asthey did two years ago. Unfortunately for them it was the Badgers, who had been off since mid-December, who came out strong.
Wisconsin forward Jason Ford got things going for his team just over two minutes in as he crashed the net after a shot by Badger Cullen Hurley ricocheted off of goaltender Ed Minney and came right to Ford who deposited the puck into a wide open net.
The Badgers continued the onslaught with multiple chances in the following minutes, seemingly just skating by the Spartan defensmen. Exactly four minutes after Wisconsin broke open the scoring, Cameron Hughes received a pass from Trent Frederic in the neutral zone. Streaking in on the right side, Hughes let go a quick snapshot that beat Minney low-blocker side to extend the Badger lead to 2-0.
Michigan State got back to scoring about a minute later when the Spartan third line, centered by freshman Patrick Khodorenko, were able to outnumber the Badgers in the offensive zone. Khodorenko emerged from the scrum with the puck and found a streaking Villiam Haag in the slot. Haag, who missed an earlier shot on the breakaway by about a foot, made no mistake this time going bar-down to cut the badger lead to 2-1.
Haag’s goal was about the only positive for the first 20 minutes for Michigan State as the Spartans were 0/2 on the man advantage and managed only three shots in the first period.
In the second period the special teams that had plagued MSU in recent games reared their ugly head again to put the game out of reach.
Michigan State took two ill-advised penalties within 14 seconds of each other to open up the second. The first was captain Joe Cox for tripping, the second to Mitch Eliot also for tripping. This gave the Badgers a 96 second two-man advantage. Things started off well for the Spartans as their penalty kill (which came into the game with a league worst 68 percent) defended almost the entirety of the five-on-three.
However the Badgers’ 8th ranked power play wouldn’t be denied. Seamus Malone found Will Johnson back-door and the sophomore netted his 6th goal of the year to regain Wisconsin’s two goal lead.
On a Spartan power play four minutes later, a turnover in the offensive zone led to a two-on-two break for Wisconsin going the other way. Junior forward Ryan Wagner threw the puck on net hoping for a streaking teammate who was covered by Haag. The pass never made it to its intended target instead ricocheting up to Jake Linhart on the far side, who picked up the short-handed goal for the Badgers. Haag accidentally crashed into Minney while covering his man, spinning the netminder out of position to challenge Linhart’s rebound shot.
After two periods the Spartans entered the dressing room down 4-1 and with only 10 shots to show for their efforts.
The third period saw a much better performance by Michigan State as they put more shots on net and challenged the Badgers as they entered the zone. Despite the 15 shots registered by the Spartans, they were all stymied by freshman Wisconsin goaltender Jack Berry.
Instead it was, Max Zimmer and the Badgers who had the last word midway through the third. Seamus Malone, showing extraordinary patience with the puck, skated low against the Spartan defense behind the net and to the near corner where he found Zimmer who had gotten free from his defender just long enough to let go a one-timer towards the net as he fell to the ice.
Zimmer’s third for the season would finish off the scoring as the Badgers took game one of the weekend series. They now improve to 2-1-0 in the Big Ten.
Michigan State on the other hand is still looking for answers. The Spartans have now lost six in a row and have not won a game since late-November.
Coach Tom Anastos and his team will look to regroup and seek a series split when the close out the Wisconsin series on Saturday at 8:07 pm.