This weekend will forever be marked as the first time the Michigan State Spartans participate in a B1G Conference hockey game. If you are going to play in a new conference, might as well open up against a good opponent. This weekend the Spartans open B1G play against the #1 ranked team in the country, the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers feature 14 current NHL draft picks to the Spartans' 5. This game also has traditionally been a trophy game, involving the Mariucci-Bessone trophy, named after two of the legendary coaches at both schools.
Last weekend, the Spartans played what should be considered their best hockey of the season. The Spartans scored 12 goals on the weekend and showed signs of life in both their power play and penalty kill against Princeton. The Spartans, in one weekend, went from averaging 1.90 goals per game to an average of 2.58. They will need to continue to score often, as the Gophers bring in the 2nd ranked offense, averaging 4.14 goals per game. This has the potential to be the biggest weekend in Tom Anastos' tenure at Michigan State. A chance to earn a win over the top ranked team nationally, in the Spartans B1G debut would be a huge step forward for the Spartans.
Minnesota Golden Gophers 11-2-1 (2-0 B1G)
Time/TV: Friday 7:00 p.m. and Saturday 4:00 p.m. (making way for the B1G championship game). Both games will be broadcast on Fox Sports Detroit-plus
Radio: Spartan Sports Network
Coach: Don Lucia is in his 15th season as the coach of the Gophers. Lucia has a record of 355-184-60 at Minnesota and 634 wins as an NCAA coach. He currently ranks 10th in career wins and is 4th among active coaches. Lucia won national titles at Minnesota in 2002 and 2003.
Players to Watch: Honestly, folks, I could give you a list of 20 Gophers to watch. This is a stacked team with tons of NHL talent on it. Sam Warning, the Gophers leading scorer, is one of the few Gophers who is an NHL free agent. Warning has 15 assists in 14 games, so expect to see him setting up Gopher scorers this weekend. Hudson Fasching (LA Kings draft pick) is a freshman phenom in a class of phenoms for the Gophers. Fasching has 6 goals and 14 points and is a part of a freshman class that has 58 points for the Gophers.Fasching also had a.. umm.. awkward moment with teammate Brady Skjei after scoring a goal against Boston College.
Mike Reilly (Columbus Blue Jackets) is a defensemen with scoring ability and someone to pay attention to on the power play. The Spartans went 100% on the penalty kill last weekend and marking Reilly will be key to having that level of success again. In net sophomore Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) has a .923 goals against average and a 2.21 goals against average. Kyle Rau ( Florida Panthers) much like Warning has been a playmaker for the Gophers with 13 assists and 16 points.
3 Keys For MSU
- Slow down the game- The Gophers play on one of the largest ice surfaces in hockey and have the athletes to maximize that advantage. Every line on the team has speed and can move from defense to offense very quickly. It will be key for the Spartans to clog the neutral zone and take advantage of the smaller ice surface. If the game becomes a wide open game it plays into the hands of Minnesota
- Win the 1st period- A quick start is imperative for Michigan State. This is a team that gained a lot of confidence by filling the net against Princeton. Comebacks will be difficult against a team with a goaltender as good as Wilcox. Minnesota is 8-0 when leading after one period.
- Discipline- The much maligned penalty kill was great last weekend against Princeton. However, the third line of Minnesota has more talent than the 1st power play unit that Princeton put out last weekend. Staying out of the penalty box will be imperative for the Spartans' success this weekend.
Prediction: Confidence is an amazing thing in hockey. Just seeing the puck go into the net can pull a team from drought to outburst, the way Michigan State did last weekend against Princeton. The Spartans will not be nervous or intimidated by the Gophers. However, the Gophers are just too talented for the Spartans right now. I'll say Gophers 4-3 on Friday and 5-1 on Saturday.
Around The B1G: Ohio State is off this week. Michigan plays the US Under 18 National Devolopment Team (featuring MSU G commit Ed Minney) in an exhibition Thursday night. The Wolverines then play Ferris State on Tuesday Dec. 10th. Wisconsin will host Penn State in a B1G Conference series. After last weekend the Gophers and Wolverines are tied for first in the conference with 6 points. Wisconsin and Ohio State are at the bottom of the league table with 0-2 records and Penn State and MSU are in the middle with zero conference games played.