The Badgers entered the Kohl Center on Friday night looking to cement themselves as a top two seed in the Big Ten Conference in order to ensure themselves a first-round bye. They secured the two seed, but in the process may have lost their at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers were swept at home by Ohio State, 5-1 and 3-1. Here’s how it all went down:
Game 1: Ohio State 5, Wisconsin 1
Ohio State opened the scoring up early on Friday night with a goal just nine minutes into the first. The Badgers couldn’t catch up after falling behind, leading to a 5-1 loss.
Coach Granato was not pleased with the team’s overall performance in the game, stating that “tonight, we sat on our heels and waited to see how the game was going to be played.”
The truth behind Granato’s claim was evident, as the Badgers fell behind quickly 2-0 at the end of the first period, as Ohio State’s David Gust snuck another one past Badger goaltender Jack Berry. The Buckeyes put another one past Berry, and Granato pulled him after this third unanswered goal.
However, the goaltending change did not last long, as Matt Jurusik left the game due to injury just four minutes after being called upon to relieve Berry of his duties. After letting in another goal, Coach Granato called upon freshman goaltender Johan Blomquist for much-needed support. Blomquist did not allow a goal in the eight minutes that he played.
Perhaps the lone bright spot for the Badgers came from the stick of Matt Ustaski off of a rebound to bring the Badgers within two of the lead.
In the end, the Badgers fell to the rival Buckeyes 5-1. Grant Besse expressed the team’s disappointment yet ever-present optimism post-game by stating that “Breaks didn’t go our way. It doesn’t feel great, but we’ll be back after it tomorrow.”
Game 2: Ohio State 3, Wisconsin 1
They were not back after it tomorrow.
The Badgers looked to bounce back in their last regular season game at the Kohl Center, but once again came out flat early and fell to Ohio State 3-1.
The Buckeyes jumped out to an early lead just three minutes into the first, and the rest was history. Wisconsin trailed for the entire first two frames before Captain Luke Kunin was able to put the Badgers on the board in the third.
The Badgers put another one in the back of the net just seven minutes prior to Kunin’s goal, but the scoring opportunity was ruled a “no-goal” due to an Ohio State challenge.
Freshman Jack Berry put up another solid effort as Jurusik was sidelined, saving 25 of 28 shots faced.
Although the Badgers dropped their fourth straight contest at the Kohl Center, they still clinched second place in the Big Ten. The second place finish ensures that the Badgers will have a first-round bye in the conference tournament next weekend in Detroit.
Luke Kunin reflected on the weekend, stating that “It’s not the way we wanted the weekend to go, but our group’s bounced back all year and we’ve had a lot of ups and downs.”
Since there are only six teams in the Big Ten Conference for men’s ice hockey, the first-round bye means that the Badgers will automatically be placed in the conference semi-finals. The Badgers will either be playing No. 6 Michigan State or No. 3 Ohio State after they face each other in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
While Ohio State is obviously dangerous, the argument could definitely be made that they are a better draw than having to face the winner of Penn State (formerly ranked No. 1 nationally) and Michigan. Either way, with the two losses this weekend, the Badgers will likely have to at least beat Ohio State to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
With all of this being said, the fact that the Badgers have beaten every single team in the Big Ten at least once this year cannot be ignored. On any given day, any team can win, and the Badgers have proven that they can beat any team in the nation over the past five months. It is up to the young group and Coach Granato to determine their own fate, as the Badgers still have a realistic shot at the NCAA Tournament even if they do fall in the Big Ten Championship game.
This weekend was definitely a disappointment, but the Badgers still hold their own fate in their hands, which is more than can be said for the vast majority of college hockey programs in the nation.