Coming off of a break that spanned nearly a month with the determination to start the year on the right foot, Wisconsin secured its first win of 2017 with a 5-1 victory over Michigan State at the Kohl Center on Friday.
“I thought we were good,” UW head coach Tony Granato said. “I thought after the 26-day break we were all nervous as coaches because you never know. I thought we were a little sloppy at times and a little bit rusty trying to get into the game, but fortunately we were able to get a couple goals.”
With Wisconsin (9-7-1, 2-1-0-0) sophomore captain Luke Kunin taking a rest after captaining Team USA to the gold medal at the 2017 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship, the rest of the Badgers stepped up for a balanced team effort as five different players tallied a goal.
“I think without Luke (Kunin) we changed the lines a little bit,” Granato said. “We created some offense, as always we made some nice plays in the offensive zone that were big plays to get us some nice goals.”
The Badgers quickly put a 2-0 lead on the board, as junior forward Jason Ford picked up his third goal of the season just 2:21 into play. Sliding through the slot, Ford fired a loose puck past Michigan State (4-12-1, 0-3-0-0) goaltender Ed Minney to give UW the 1-0 advantage.
Exactly four minutes later, junior forward Cameron Hughes split the Spartan defense and sent a rocket in under Minney’s pad to secure the 2-0 lead.
Michigan State would respond a minute later, when Villiam Haag snuck a shot off the post and in to cut the Wisconsin lead to 2-1.
Will Johnson would help Wisconsin regain a two-goal lead early in the second frame, picking up his sixth goal of the season during a Badger power play. With a 5-on-3 advantage, the sophomore forward found space in front of the Spartan crease and fired a wrister past a diving Minney.
“When it is a 5-on-3, it’s not the end of the world if the eight seconds go up,” sophomore Seamus Malone said of his pass to Johnson late on the advantage. “You need to look for that right opportunity. Will (Johnson) got open and I saw him, so I just gave him the puck right away. He did a good job so it made it pretty easy on my part.”
Defenseman Jake Linhart would add a goal of his own in the period, striking on the penalty kill for the junior’s first career short-handed goal. Linhart crashed in on a loose puck sitting in the slot, beating the MSU defensemen and sending a backhand shot past Minney.
“I saw we had a little bit of an odd man rush,” Linhart said. “I jumped in the play and (Trent Frederic) threw it to the net and luckily it popped out to me. It was kind of a flukey goal, but I’ll take it.”
Rookie forward Max Zimmer notched the final goal of the game for Wisconsin at the 10:52 mark of the third period, finishing off a textbook play set up by senior Grant Besse and Malone. Malone skated deep into the Spartan zone, then dished the puck to the slot for Zimmer’s one-timer into the wide open net.
“I think that line has been good for us,” Granato said of Zimmer, Malone and Besse. “I think Max (Zimmer) is going to continue to gain confidence playing with those guys. I thought his jump in practice this week, he just looks like he’s a confident player now.”
Wisconsin outshot Michigan State 36-26 in the game with freshman goalie Jack Berry collecting 25 saves in the win.
The defeat of Michigan State marks Wisconsin’s 199th win at the Kohl Center, where the team began playing its games in 1998.
“I think we have a lot more to bring tomorrow,” Frederic said. “I don’t know if that was our best, obviously we haven’t played in a long time. We have a lot more to bring. They hit a lot of posts so it could’ve been a close game. The bounces went our way, but I think tomorrow we have to come out a little bit better.”
The Badgers and Spartans meet for the series finale tomorrow night at the Kohl Center, with puck drop set for 7 p.m. The game airs live on BTN.
Published on UWBadgers.com
Edited by Paul Capobianco