EAST LANSING, Mich. — In their first test against a ranked opponent this season, the Wisconsin Badgers issued a definitive statement. With two first period goals from defenseman Brendan Smith and three from the line of Jordy Murray, Derek Stepan and Michael Davies, the No. 15 Badgers cruised to a 7-3 win over the eighth ranked Michigan State Spartans to kick off this year’s College Hockey Showcase.
Stepan led all Badgers in scoring with a goal and four assists — including helpers on the first and last goals in the game — and Davies netted two with one dime.
“They have been close to doing that in several games and finally the lid came off tonight and they were able to put the puck in the net,” said UW head coach Mike Eaves. “They’ve had lots of chances and it was a nice reward for them to have all things that they’ve been working on finally pay off.”
The Badgers never trailed but were threatened at the start of the third while leading 5-2.
The Spartans built on their momentum from Matt Grassi’s goal at 19:57 in the middle stanza with a Corey Tropp marker 15 seconds into the third, but Blake Geoffrion’s power-play goal from Smith at 11:42 put the game out of reach for MSU.
“The two [Smith] goals were a very nice play to start the game,” said Eaves, “but the big play was the pass to Blake who — by the way — is a pretty good shot.”
Wisconsin led 2-0 after one on Smith’s fourth and fifth goals of the season. His first of the night came at 9:23, when both he and the puck crashed into the net simultaneously. He added his second at 12:25, taking advantage of the complete lack of Spartan defense.
MSU goaltender Drew Palmisano made two impressive saves on Davies at the left post — one by throwing his leg into the air to prevent the rebound goal — but there was no one to give Palmisano a hand as Davies recovered the puck and passed from behind the net to Smith, who capitalized on his chance from right of the crease.
Derek Grant scored the first of Michigan State’s two power-play goals on the night at 11:13 in the second to make it 2-1, but Wisconsin had increased its lead by three more goals within the next six minutes.
At 13:15, Aaron Bendickson stripped Spartan Torey Krug of the puck following a faceoff in the left MSU circle, skated it behind the cage with Krug riding him in, and forced in the goal between Palmisano’s legs to make it 3-1.
Then at 14:17, Davies made it 4-1 when he registered his first of the night after picking up Stepan’s rebound, a shot that bounced off an MSU skate and straight back to Davies. With that goal, Palmisano was replaced by Bobby Jarosz, who received about the same amount of help for the remainder of the period; at 17:15, Stepan beat Jarosz at the left post to give the Badgers a four goal lead.
With those three unanswered goals, the game appeared to belong to Wisconsin utterly — until Grassi’s goal with 3.2 seconds left in the second. Grassi was able to score on a wide-open net because UW goalie Brett Bennett was horizontal, sandwiched between Corey Tropp and the ice. The goal was allowed to stand after review.
“He said that our guy pushed their guy on the goalie and the referee-in-chief came by and said they need to look at that from a different angle,” said Eaves, by way of explanation.
With that play to spark them, the Spartans came out renewed in the third. After Tropp’s goal from Grant and Jeff Petry at the 15 second mark, MSU threatened until Geoffiron scored on the power play at 11:42 for the sixth Wisconsin goal of the game. Davies scored his second from Stepan, also with the man-advantage, at 17:45 for good measure.
Stepan said Smith’s pass to Geoffrion to shut down the MSU momentum was “something that not many players” could complete. Smith worked his way out of the Spartan corner and backhanded it to Geoffrion to the right of the cage.
“He’s got the special ability to make that pass and he saw Blake all alone and made a really nice pass, a nice crisp pass, and Blake buried it,” said Stepan.
As for his own offensive production, Stepan said that all it took was a little contact.
“Coach has been working with me the last couple of weeks and discussing what part of my game has been missing. He kind of pounded last weekend that I wasn’t playing with an edge, I wasn’t getting hits. I wasn’t getting my five hits a game.
“I’m not a guy that’s going to go out and blow somebody up, but if I get my five hits a game, I tend to play with a little more edge. I found that tonight, and with that came the points, which is good. It was a good feeling tonight.”
The Badgers outshot the Spartans 36-29 in the contest. Bennett had 26 saves in his fifth win of the season; Palmisano stopped 21 in his third loss. UW was 3-for-5 on the power play, MSU 2-for-8.
“We got it handed to us,” said MSU head coach Rick Comley. “They are a very good team. Thats probably the toughest game that weve had all year, as far as playing against speed.
“A couple times we almost got going but we started so slow and so ragged. They are a good team and you have to play well against them if you are going to do well.”
Wisconsin (8-4-1) travels to Ann Arbor to face the Wolverines Saturday to finish out the College Hockey Showcase. Michigan State (9-4-2) welcomes Minnesota, who lost 6-0 to Michigan Friday.