It’s been quite a while since Penn State and Wisconsin faced off, but their most recent matchup was one that will not soon be forgotten. After finishing fourth in the regular season standings, the Nittany Lions were forced to play three games in three days in the hopes of winning their first Big Ten Tournament title.
Two of those games went to double overtime, including that Championship game contest against the Badgers, who had the benefit of a first round bye after finishing second in the regular season standings.
Peyton Jones stood on his head in the game and, as though it was a trend in a Penn State-Wisconsin Championship game, a player donning number 26 snuck behind the defense for the winning score.
Two hundred and ninety-two days have passed since that classic moment, and the Lions and Badgers find themselves in a similar position heading into their weekend series.
Both have had an up and down start to their season and are in a heated race for second place in the conference behind the dominant Notre Dame. A sweep for either team will provide leverage over the rest of the conference down the home stretch of the regular season.
The Badgers sit fifth in the Big Ten, but are just three points back of second place Ohio State. With first place Notre Dame pulling away at first place with 30 points, that second position will become coveted for home ice advantage in the first two rounds of the Big Ten Tournament.
The Badgers lost a pair of key offensive weapons from last season, as Luke Kunin (38 points) signed his entry-level deal with the Minnesota Wild while Grant Besse (28 points) graduated last year.
The Badgers have had a more even distribution of scoring this season, as 10 players have double digit points after only 11 hit double digits last season. One of their top scorers — Trent Frederic — may be unavailable for the weekend, however.
The sophomore forward, along with the rest of Team USA, will attempt to win bronze in the World Junior Championships on Friday afternoon. Frederic could make the trip from Buffalo, NY for Saturday’s contest, but may need some rest after the grueling tournament.
After three outstanding seasons at St. Lawrence, Kyle Hayton now finds himself between the pipes for the Badgers. Despite the promise he showed with the Skating Saints, his numbers have not met up to the standards he set at his prior institution.
With his career-low save percentage with the Saints at just .929, the graduate transfer has dropped below .900 this season. His .887 mark this season ranks 67th out of 75 qualified goaltenders.
After starting 14 of the team’s first 16 games, Hayton has found himself on the bench for three of the past five games in favor of Jack Berry. Hayton has lost both of his starts in that stretch, while Berry is 2-1-0.