MADISON, Wis. — The list of excuses could have been long for Wisconsin: a No. 2 ranking, still full from Thanksgiving, looking ahead to Michigan, still tired from last weekend’s trip to Alaska.
Whatever the reason, the Badgers were outplayed Friday night and fell to Michigan State 4-0 in front of 11,949 at the Kohl Center.
“We just didn’t come out to play,” Badger defenseman Jeff Likens said.
“There wasn’t that jump or that urgency right from the start of the game,” junior captain Adam Burish added. “I’m willing to take a lot of the blame for that. Being the captain of the team, shame on me for not going in there and throwing some garbage cans around.”
The Badgers came out flat and never escaped that feeling.
“We were off in every area,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said. “We changed our goalie, we changed our partners on defense, we changed our lines trying to get something going. It just wasn’t there.”
“It’s one of those games where I don’t think it’s the best Wisconsin team you’ve seen all year,” Michigan State head coach Rick Comley said.
Michigan State did with one shot against the Badgers what it could not do in more than 60 minutes at last year’s College Hockey Showcase: score on Brian Elliott.
Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves started the sophomore netminder after a solid game last weekend at Alaska-Anchorage and a shutout against Michigan State last season. That would not be the case Friday night.
In fact, this time it would be the opposite as Spartan sophomore Dominic Vicari shut out the Badgers.
It took the Spartans until the 4:24 mark of the opening period to get their first shot on Elliott, but that was all they needed to get on the scoreboard. Colton Fretter took advantage of a Badger turnover and wristed the puck past Elliott to give MSU the one-goal advantage.
“It’s tough for the kid; the first shot went in on him,” Comley said. “That’s always tough for anybody.”
Less than two minutes later it appeared that the Spartans had doubled their lead. Chris Mueller poked the puck between Elliott’s legs on a power play, but referee Todd Anderson immediately waved off the goal.
The teams battled defensively for the remainder of the period with few shots and even fewer good chances. Despite outshooting Michigan State 9-5, the Badgers were down one goal heading into the first intermission.
Michigan State turned it up a notch in the second period, outshooting the Badgers 12-10, adding two more goals to the lead and ending Elliott’s night.
Fretter got his second of the night less than five minutes into the period on a Spartan power play. He ripped a wrister from the top of the left circle high over the glove of Elliott, making it 2-0 in favor of MSU.
Minutes later, sophomore Drew Miller piled on another power-play goal for the Spartans. Miller took the puck from Jim Slater at the side of the net and knocked it off Elliott’s skate into the goal giving the Spartans the three-goal edge.
That would be the last shot that Elliott would see as senior Bernd Bruckler entered the net for Wisconsin. On the night, Elliott gave up three goals and made just nine saves.
“I felt pretty good in warmups. I’m not going to make any excuses,” Elliott said “I’m just going to take this game, put it in my back pocket, learn from it and go from there.”
“Those are goals he would like to have back again, and I know he’s going to look at them and learn from them, but for him it’s part of the experience,” Eaves said.
Bruckler stopped every shot he saw over the remaining 13-plus minutes of the second period, but the Badgers failed to take advantage of their opportunities, leaving them a three-goal deficit to attend to in the third period. It was not meant to be.
The shots were even and the Badgers again had their chances over the final 20 minutes, but instead gave up one more goal, this time to Jim Slater, capping off the 4-0 victory.
Friday night marked the first time the Badgers had been shut out since March 8, 2003, when they fell 5-0 to North Dakota. After having two of their best outings last weekend in Anchorage, they played possibly their worst game of the season.
“It’s part of being young and coming back from a road trip. I can’t put my finger on it,” Eaves said. “The best thing about tonight is that we play tomorrow night. I believe in my heart that the team will respond.”
Vicari was perfect in net for the Spartans, gaining his ninth career shutout by stopping 28 shots.
“Dom has played pretty well. Tonight he was obviously very solid and made some good saves early,” Comley said.
Fretter’s two goals added to his team lead, giving him eight on the season. He also assisted on the third goal to give him 15 points this season. Slater’s goal and two assists give him five goals and nine assists as the two continue to set the pace on offense for MSU.
Saturday night will feature a battle between the top two teams in the country coming into this weekend, Michigan and Wisconsin. However, after Wisconsin’s loss and Michigan’s 5-1 loss to Minnesota Friday, the game seems a little less significant. Nonetheless, both teams will be out for revenge.
Michigan State heads to Minnesota where one team will emerge 2-0 for the College Hockey Showcase.