So close, yet so far. That has been the sentiment practically all season long for the Wisconsin Men’s Hockey team, as fans have watched them build and blow leads almost every weekend. Coming into this weekend’s matchup with Michigan State, the Badgers were looking to find their first win of the Big Ten season, and launch themselves into the race for the conference title. That push for the top of the standings will have to wait a little longer, however, after the Spartans were able to force a split in East Lansing.

Friday night saw the Badgers get off to a first period lead despite being outshot. Goaltender Matt Jurusik made seventeen saves in the first frame alone, and was backed up by goals from Will Johnson and Jake Linhart. The Spartans halved UW’s lead just moments after Linhart’s goal, as Brennan Sanford answered with a tally of his own to recapture some of the momentum. The Badgers would again open up a two-goal lead, however, courtesy of Matthew Freytag’s goal just over midway through the period. But again the Spartans had an answer, this time on a Travis Walsh goal just forty-eight seconds later. Another Michigan State goal just before the end of the period tied things up, leaving the third period to decide the series opener. UW outshot MSU 10-6 in the third, but Spartan goaltender Jake Hildebrand was up to the challenge, shutting the Badgers out in the final twenty minutes. With under four minutes to play, Michigan State’s Justin Hoomaian scored his first goal of the season, giving the Spartans a 4-3 victory.

Saturday night saw the Badgers come out hungry, looking to rebound from Friday’s disappointing loss. The defense was the story for UW on Saturday night, led by another stellar performance from freshman goaltender Matt Jurusik. A scoreless first period gave way to Seamus Malone’s second period goal, giving the Badgers a 1-0 lead just under five minutes into the period. Matthew Freytag’s second goal of the weekend gave UW a two-goal advantage with seven minutes left in the frame, and Luke Kunin put an exclamation point on the period, scoring with fifty-eight seconds remaining. The Badger defense refused to yield their three-goal lead in the third period, and Matt Jurusik recorded his first career shutout, as the Badgers went home 3-0 winners.

Three Stars

Third Star: Freshman Seamus Malone had a productive weekend, with an assist on Friday and a goal on Saturday. He also looked impressive on the defensive end, blocking two shots on Friday night. On a weekend when no one really stood out for the Badgers, it was nice to see the freshman finding opportunities to create offense, and sacrificing his body on defense.

Second Star: Matthew Freytag is a name that won’t soon be forgotten by Michigan State. Another freshman who was able to contribute offensively, Freytag scored goals both Friday and Saturday night, and was credited with an assist on Will Johnson’s series-opening goal. Now with five goals on the season, it certainly looks like the freshman forward is heating up at the right time.

First Star: The Badgers have gotten impressive performances out of all of their freshmen this season, but maybe none more so than goaltender Matt Jurusik. Jurusik has been solid since winning the starting job early in the year, and this weekend was no exception. His twenty-eight saves on Friday were still impressive despite not being enough to get the victory, and his masterful twenty-seven save shutout on Saturday night was clutch. UW needed to bounce back, and Jurusik was there to steady the ship. Let’s hope he can remain this reliable all season.

What’s Ahead

The Badgers have the rest of December off for Winter Break. The team will play an exhibition game against the Spartans of Trinity Western University, a private school in British Colombia, on New Year’s Day. Conference play resumes the following weekend, with a home series against Ohio State.

Photo from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Athletic Department.