Special teams helps UW men's hockey send off seniors in style
MADISON, Wis. – A to-do list for the Wisconsin men's hockey team coming into its final home series of the year would likely have contained at least three items. First, send off the team's nine seniors on top. Second, improve a sputtering power play, and third, extend the team's hot streak on the penalty kill. Check, check and check.
The Badgers (19-9-2, 10-5-1-0 Big Ten) did all that and more, riding their special teams to a 2-0 win over the Spartans (9-15-7, 3-7-6-4 Big Ten), and cementing the sweep, all the while earning head coach Mike Eaves his 250th career win at Wisconsin in the process.
The effort made it 17 home wins this season for Wisconsin, the most in a single season in the Kohl Center era. Fittingly, it came in front of a sellout crowd of 15,359, making it the second home sellout of the season for UW.
It was a pair of power-play goals that proved to be the difference for UW, with one coming from Joseph LaBate (Eagan, Minn.) in the first period and another courtesy of Michael Mersch (Park Ridge, Ill.) in the second.
That would be all the Badgers would need, as Joel Rumpel (Swift Current, Saskatchewan) and the UW penalty kill shut out the Spartans to preserve the victory.
The shutout was the ninth of Rumpel's career, moving him into a three-way tie for second place in program history alongside Terry Kleisinger and Graham Melanson. The junior made 31 saves to keep MSU off the board and earn his 16th victory of the season.
Credit Wisconsin's penalty with an assist, though.
The unit kept the Spartans scoreless on five power-play tries, giving it 42 successful penalty kills in its last 43 chances.
On the other hand, Wisconsin's power play managed multiple goals for the second-straight game, finishing 2-for-5. That made it the first series in which the Badgers scored multiple power-play goals in consecutive games since Nov. 25-26, 2011 against Mercyhurst.
LaBate got the scoring started when he took a pass from Kevin Schulze (White Bear Lake, Minn.) at the high slot and fired the puck off a Spartan defender and into the net. The shot gave UW a 1-0 lead 7:17 into the first frame. Frankie Simonelli (Bensenville, Ill.) had the secondary assist to extend his point-scoring streak to a career-high six games.
Mersch got in on the act a period later with his third power-play goal of the series when Tyler Barnes (Eagan, Minn.) took a Mark Zengerle (Rochester, N.Y.) feed behind the net and found Mersch just outside the crease for a redirect goal.
The goal came 4:23 into the second period and moved Zengerle into a ninth-place tie with Doug Macdonald on the Wisconsin leader board with his 114th-career assist.
The win caps a 17-2-1 record at home for Wisconsin this season, the second-best single-season winning percentage in school history at .875. Only the 1972-73 NCAA championship team had a better home record with a 19-1-0 mark at the Dane County Coliseum (.950).
The Badgers take their final bye of the season next weekend before returning to the ice on March 7-8 with their first-ever trip to Penn State.
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