MADISON, Wis. — After four long weeks, the Wisconsin Badgers have something to be thankful for.
The Badgers (5-9-2) used goals in the first and last minute of the second period and got 19 saves from sophomore Shane Connelly to break their six-game losing streak and shut out the Michigan State Spartans (6-6-1) 2-0 in the College Hockey Showcase.
“We’ve played some pretty good hockey and it’s nice for these young men to get a win,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said. “We had a collective sigh of relief that they finally get rewarded for their hard work.”
The quest began early in the day for the Badgers in hopes of breaking their longest losing skid in 10 years, when Eaves decided to dress one extra defenseman, putting seven on the ice rather than his usual six. Eaves also gave the start in goal to Connelly, who hadn’t seen time on the ice since October 7.
The two moves proved invaluable, as Wisconsin blocked 20 shots on the night. As for the shots that made it through the Badger line, Connelly was there to stymie Michigan State, recording 19 saves for his first shutout of the season.
“[Playing Shane] was part of the big picture plan,” Eaves said. “We have to sit down and lock out games where he can jump in and be ready to go. Not having played in such a long time, to step in and not only get a win, but get a shutout, that’s a great thing for that young man.”
“I wanted to go out there and help give the team a chance to win,” Connelly said. “It was a weight off my shoulder to finally get out there and show the coaching staff and the team what I can do.”
For the second consecutive night, Wisconsin jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. Just moments into the second, captain Andrew Joudrey skated across the ice and harmlessly fired a shot at Michigan State goalie Jeff Lerg. Luckily for Wisconsin, Lerg was screened on the play and the puck found the back of the net through the five-hole to give the Badgers the early lead.
Not only was the goal a big lift for the Badgers, it was a monkey off Joudrey’s back, as the captain had been unable to find the net in Wisconsin’s last nine games.
“I’ve been getting teased by the coaching staff for hitting posts and crossbars, so it’s nice to get one,” Joudrey said. “Much like the other guys, I’ve been knocking on the door so many times. I just finally got one home.”
With the clock winding down in the second, the Badgers were looking to break another dreadful streak, of converting on the power play. Wisconsin entered the game scoreless on its last 16 power plays and with 56 seconds left, sophomore Ben Street snapped that streak as well.
Off a shot from winger Michael Davies, the puck drifted right to Street, who buried it in front of a wide-open net to give the Badgers insurance going into the final period.
“We’ve had a couple of leads going into the third that we haven’t been able to put away,” Street said. “[Tonight] was another opportunity for us to close it out and get the job done. I think it hurts a team to give a goal up late. It’s sort of a backbreaker and maybe it took the wind out of their sales.”
But unlike the night before, Wisconsin didn’t allow the Spartans to get back into the game. A night after getting only 17 shots against Minnesota, Michigan State was again held under 20 shots on goal.
Whether it was the journey down to Madison or playing five games in eight days, Spartan head coach Rick Comley could tell his team didn’t have enough energy on Saturday night.
“Midway through the first, we just seemed to hit the wall,” Comley said. “I don’t know if we were tired, but they played very solid defensively and we didn’t have a decent scoring chance until the last few minutes. We’ve played better but we’ve been inconsistent … They played hard and deserved to win.”
In addition to his goal, Joudrey played out of character on Saturday night, evident by two combative penalties in the game. Not known for his aggressive style, Joudrey was physical on the boards all night for Wisconsin.
“[Joudrey] leads by example, that’s what the captain’s ‘C’ means,” Connelly said. “To see that he went out there, battled, got a goal and pushed people around. It means a lot to the team. Everyone is watching him and he went out there and performed well tonight.”
Michigan State returns to conference action next weekend as it hosts the Ohio State Buckeyes, while the Badgers have two weeks to prepare for their journey to Grand Forks to take on the North Dakota Fighting Sioux.