Posted-February 22nd, 2014 12:57 pm
MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin men’s hockey team has struggled on the power play this season, entering Friday’s contest against Michigan State (9-14-7, 3-6-6-4 Big Ten) having converted on just over 15 percent of their attempts. Turns out some things have to get worse before they get better.
The Badgers (18-9-2, 9-5-1-0) allowed a short-handed score on their first power play of the game before redeeming themselves with tallies on their next two chances to fuel a 5-2 victory at the Kohl Center.
Michael Mersch (Park Ridge, Ill.) was responsible for both conversions, both coming off assists from Nic Kerdiles (Irvine, Calif.) and Jake McCabe (Eau Claire, Wis.). The two tallies would put the Badgers on top 2-1 in the second period and UW never looked back, winning for a program record-tying 16th time this season at the Kohl Center.
Lee Reimer gave Michigan State its only lead of the night, after Jake Chelios pounced on a Wisconsin turnover and found him streaking down the left wing. Reimer finished from the right circle, placing a shot just under the right elbow of Wisconsin goaltender Joel Rumpel (Swift Current, Saskatchewan), 6:52 into the game.
But Mersch responded on the power play, as he has throughout his career. The senior led the Badgers in power-play goals the last two seasons, and if he maintains his team lead this year, he would become the first Badger ever to lead the team in power-play goals in three-straight seasons.
The first goal came at the 9:14 mark of the first period, answering the Spartans’ tally just 2:22 earlier. Kerdiles set up the goal with a shot that Mersch redirected home from the slot to knot the score.
Kerdiles and Mersch would hook up again four minutes into the second period. Kerdiles ripped a shot from the right circle, and Mersch dove in head first to punch in the rebound, sliding it between the open legs of MSU goalie Jake Hildebrand.
The finishes snapped a rare dry spell on the power play for Mersch. After netting five power-play goals in the first 12 games of the season, he was held scoreless on the power play in the next 16 contests, before breaking through on Friday.
With those scores, the Badgers were off and running, as Mark Zengerle (Rochester, N.Y.) tallied with 3.9 ticks left in the second period, before Brad Navin (Waupaca, Wis.) followed to push the Badger lead to 4-1 at 4:39 into the final frame.
The Spartans would make one last push, cutting the margin to 4-2 when Mackenzie MacEachern took a feed in the slot and finished past Rumpel with 2:08 to go.
But Kerdiles wasted no time applying the finishing touches, scoring on an empty net 22 seconds later to ice the win.
Wisconsin’s senior made the most on the first night of their final series at the Kohl Center, as five players scored points and the class combined for three goals and five assists.
Frankie Simonelli (Bensenville, Ill.) was one of the seniors who scored, giving him a career-high five game point streak. He also has points in nine of his last 10 games, and is the Big Ten’s highest-scoring defenseman in conference play.
Wisconsin finished 2-for-6 on the power play, making it only the fourth time this season that the Badgers scored multiple times on the man advantage, and the first since Jan. 3 against Alaska Anchorage. UW was also 2-for-2 on the penalty kill, and has now only surrendered a single goal in its last 38 power plays faced.
Rumpel finished the night with 24 saves on 26 shots, while Hildebrand allowed four goals on 27 Badger offerings.
Wisconsin looks to set the school-record for single-season wins at the Kohl Center when it takes on Michigan State at 4 p.m. on Saturday. The Badgers look to secure a sweep on Senior Day in a game that will be televised on ESPNU.