This week, games 296 and 297 in the Michigan State Spartans and Michigan Wolverines hockey rivalry will take place. This is a rivalry that dates back to 1922 and has included games at Spartan Stadium, The Big House, Munn Arena, Yost Arena, Dem Hall and Joe Louis Arena. The first hockey game Michigan State ever played in was a 5-1 defeat to Michigan on January 11, 1922. The Spartans went winless against Michigan until 1927 when they defeated the Wolverines 5-2. Unlike other sports, where Michigan can say their real rival is Ohio State, each program embraces that the biggest nights of the year are when you lace up the skates against each other. It's a series that has led to multiple line and bench clearing brawls, made more impressive when fighting isn't allowed in college hockey.
54% of the rosters between these two squads hail (bad word usage) from the state of Michigan. Sophomore Spartan Mike Ferrantino played USHL hockey with Wolverine Mike Chiasson. Spartan Ryan Keller played with Wolverine Michael Downing at Detroit Catholic Central, and then played with Justin Salman in Sioux Falls in the USHL. Growing up playing travel hockey in this state, 5 nights a year, you get a divided locker room. I remember rushing out to a teammates' backyard rink after watching a MSU-UM game on Fox Sports and playing a pick-up game of our own, MSU fans vs. Michigan fans of course.
This rivalry is Amo Bessone vs. Al Renfrew in the WCHA. Ron Mason vs Red Berenson in the CCHA. This is a rivalry that has taken place in 5 conferences (MCHL, WIHL, WCHA, CCHA, B1G) and lasted after a hockey hiatus at both schools during World War 2. This weekend, its not just a match-up between the 3rd and 4th place teams in the B1G. After Friday night, thousands of young hockey players will know if they get to chirp their teammates in the locker room the next day, or whether they need Colin Kaepernick Dre Beats to drown out the noise. It's Michigan week. New conference, same old hate.
#14 Michigan Wolverines 10-6-2 (2-2 B1G)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 149-127-19
Time/TV: Thursday @ Joe Louis Arena 7:00 PM Fox Sports Detroit. Friday @ Munn Arena 6:30 on BTN.
Coach: Red Berenson is in his 30th season at his Alma Mater and holds a career record of 780-377-82. Berenson is 5th all time in wins in the NCAA and is only 3 wins back of former Spartan bench boss Rick Comley. Berenson has won two national championships and 10 regular season league titles. Berenson is 7-3-1 against current Spartan coach Tom Anastos. Berenson is a former Red Wing who played at the University of Michigan from 1959-62, including a 70 point campaign in 1961-62.
Players To Watch: The Wolverines roster features a total of 12 NHL draft picks, so pick your poison for players to keep an eye on. Cristoval 'Boo' Nieves was an absolute menace to the Spartans last season, as the Rangers 2nd round pick had 5 goals in 5 games. Leading scorer Andrew Copp (Winnipeg 4th rd) did not play against the Spartans in the GLI, as he was playing in the World Junior Championships. Freshman JT Compher (Buffalo 2nd rd) is 2nd on the team in scoring with 6 goals and 15 points and Spartan fans should also keep an eye on Alex Guptill (Dallas 3rd rd) who lead the Wolverines in scoring last season with 16 goals. The most surprising Wolverine this season has been freshman goaltender Zach Nagelvoort who has a .932 save percentage, after being an unheralded late commitment from the Aberdeen Wings in the NAHL. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I do pay more attention to Nagelvoort as he was my cousin's teammate last season, but I definitely did not see him taking the starting job and running with it this season. Nagelvoort did allow some soft goals in his last series out against Wisconsin and will be under pressure in his first road rivalry game Friday.
3 Keys For MSU Success:
- Score 3 Goals- After last weekend's 3-0, 3-2 series sweep of Penn State, the Spartans improved to 8-1 on the season when scoring 3 or more goals. The only loss this season came in a 5-3 defeat at Ohio State, a game the Spartans were leading 3-2 heading into the 3rd period. Not only has MSU been near perfect when scoring 3 goals but also Michigan has struggled to consistently score. Michigan is 4-5 when they allow 3 or more goals and is 29th in the country scoring 2.78 goals/game.
- Hold Michigan Under 30 Shots On Goal- As noted above, Michigan is not a team that blows the doors off offensively. As expected, there is a stark difference between wins and losses in their shots on goal. In losses this season the Wolverines average 29.25 shots on goal, compared to 34.3 shots on goal in their 10 victories. In their prior meeting this season, which is the best performance Michigan State has had, the Spartans outshot the Wolverines 40-29.
- Keep Emotions In Check- This is a key that coach Tom Anastos pointed out in his Tuesday press conference for the weekend. In the prior meeting, the Spartans were only whistled for one minor penalty. Michigan has a power play that ranks 15th in the country scoring on 21.4% of their opportunities. With the Spartans penalty kill still below the Mendoza line at 79.8%, discipline will be absolutely vital for the Spartans. Friday's game, as the 2nd of a back to back, is bound to have emotions come to the surface and the team that can keep them in check will have the advantage.
Analysis: The Wolverines come in as a team on a downswing. After starting the season 10-3-1 and rising to a #3 ranking nationally the Wolverines have gone 0-5-1, including an exhibition loss to the US National Under 18 team. They have fallen to 15th in the RPI and sit right on the NCAA tournament bubble. With each win in the B1G counting as 3 points, a series sweep could decimate the Wolverines' chances at finishing in the top three. Michigan State on the other hand has played some of its best hockey all season, starting with the victory over Michigan. They have improved to 40th in the RPI and have one of the hottest goaltenders in the country in Jake Hildebrand. If the Spartans can hold the Wolverines to under 3 goals each night I think a series sweep is highly possible. With the Wolverines having the bye week last weekend, I think they have probably gotten enough kinks worked out that a series split is most likely.
Around the B1G: All the B1G teams are in action this weekend. Wisconsin hosts Ohio State for a series. Penn State plays one game hosting Boston College. Minnesota plays in the North Star College Cup against the other Minnesota schools. They will play St. Cloud State Friday and will play either Minnesota State-Mankato or Minnesota Duluth Saturday.