A week after going 0-1-1 against #6 Michigan, the Badgers men’s hockey team will host Michigan State.

After a rough start last Friday night against Michigan, which resulted in a 4-1 loss, the Badgers competed against the top ranked line in collegiate hockey and tied 4-4 Saturday night.

“I think Friday night was a little bit of a misnomer in the fact that we hadn’t played in a couple of weeks, so I think it took them a game to get going,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said. “That was more like them on Saturday. They competed and went head-to-head. They had a bunch of points against that line, and that’s a clear indicator that they’re going in the right direction, and I hope that continues.”

Eaves is hopeful for the upcoming game against Michigan State. In last Saturday’s game against Michigan, top scorers Luke Kunin, Cameron Hughes, Grant Besse, and Ryan Wagner all scored.

Regarding Wagner, Eaves said, “We talked about Wags [Wagner] in terms of what he did when he wasn’t here. He helped his team win a National Championship. He was the go-to guy.”

Freshman goalie Matt Jurusik has also shown improvement in the last few weeks after struggling at the beginning of the season. He had 29 saves in Saturday night’s tie.

Eaves discussed the difficulties that Jurusik has faced in his starting season with the Badgers. Jurusik is the youngest goaltender in the NCAA and holds the starting goaltender position for the Badgers. Eaves described Jurusik’s role on the team as daunting, especially for a young player.

Of Jurusik’s continued improvement, however, Eaves said, “He continues to have a pretty mature approach to all that’s going on. He continues to work with Coach Sanger in terms of what’s going on, how can I get better. So like the rest of the team, he’s forging ahead in the right direction.”

The Badgers will once again have senior captain and defenseman Eddie Wittchow in the lineup Friday night. Wittchow was suspended for three games after an unnecessary hit to the head of Minnesota player Tommy Nowak on Saturday January 23rd at the Kohl Center.

“It nice that we’re playing every weekend, and we got Eddie [Wittchow] back in the lineup, and we can keep rolling and keep pushing to get the level of play we want to get to,” Eaves said.

Michigan State ranks in fifth place in the Big 10, three points ahead of Wisconsin. Michigan State ranks third in total blocked shots (509) and average blocks per game (16.97).

Wisconsin’s last series against Michigan State in early December resulted in a win and a loss in East Lansing. The Badgers lost Friday December 11th, 4-3, followed by a win Saturday December 12th, 3-0.

“Saturday we came out and shut them out in their own building,” Eaves explained of the December 12th game. “We got on a roll and then we got a break again, but it was an important win for us because we responded. We showed the resilience that this group has shown all year long, and so that was why it looked like it could be a real galvanizing point of the season.”

Of his strategy for this weekend, Eaves said, “Now we’ve got them back in here, and the key to their team is a young goaltender, Hildebrand. He’s one of the best around, and he gives them a chance to win every night, and we’re going to have to make it difficult for him.”

In last Saturday night’s game, the Badgers outshot Michigan, 44-33. If they can continue this higher level of playing, they have a chance to score against Michigan State senior Jake Hildebrand.

Eaves had nothing but praise for his team in his Monday press conference.

“They’ve gotten better, closer as a group, and the way you can tell is because they’re holding each other accountable, but they’re able to accept that accountability challenge because they know the guy is telling them for the right reasons. So they become closer as a team, and from an inside-out standpoint, what you folks might not see watching the game, that’s healthy.”

The Wisconsin Badgers will play Michigan State Friday and Saturday night at 8:00 PM CT.

Photo from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Athletic Department.