It is finally here. After not playing a meaningful hockey game since losing to Ohio State in the B1G Tournament last season, the Spartan hockey team returns to action this Friday and Saturday with a series against the UMass Minutemen. You can find information on every single Spartan here and here. In coach Tom Anastos' fourth season the Spartans are looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament once again and improve on an anemic offense that has plagued them the last two seasons. The Spartans struggled to score in the only game they have played this season, a tie against the University of Windsor. However, the score was not necessarily an indication of how well the Spartans played. They outshot the Lancers 45-24 and were stymied by a 26 year old goaltender, who is in his 5th season of CIS hockey after playing with the OHL's Kitchener Rangers and some semi-pro hockey in the ECHL as well. The sophomore laden roster held their own against stronger and older players and managed to dominate the pace of play.
These two teams opened up the 2013-14 season with a series in Amherst. You can read what I wrote about that series, where the Spartans were swept. UMass went on to finish with just eight wins last season, averaging only .05 more goals per game than the Spartans, with 2.24. This series is the Spartans' best chance for an out of conference sweep, until they plat at Princeton at the end of November. UMass has played one regular season game this year, losing 8-1 to Boston University last Friday night. The game was actually a 2-1 affair after 2 periods, before the Terriers poured in 6 goals in the 3rd, including 2 from super freshman Jack Eichel.
Time/TV/Radio: 7:00 P.M. both Friday and Saturday. No TV. Radio on Spartan Sports Network and 1240 AM in Lansing.
Coach: John Micheletto is in his 3rd season behind the bench for the Minutemen, with a record of 20-41-7 at the helm. He came to UMass in 2012, after being an assistant coach with Hockey East rivals, University of Vermont since 2003. Micheletto will have his hands full this season, as the Minutemen lost 7 of their top 9 scorers from a year ago and are welcoming a class of 9 freshman to campus this season. It will likely be a season of growing pains in the stacked Hockey East.
Players to watch: As mentioned above, so much of the scoring from last years' team is gone and it is early to tell who will be impactful this season in Amherst. Returning for the Minutemen however, is starting goaltender Steve Mastalerz. The senior out of North Andover, Mass. started 31 games last season and was in net for all of the Minutemen's wins. Mastalerz compiled a 2.77 goals against and .907 save percentage. Mastalerz also attended the 2014 Pittsburgh Penguins development camp, where Spartan netminder Jake Hildebrand skated as well. Up front, sophomore forward Steven Iacobellis, returns as the highest scorer from last season (11G, 10A). Iacobellis will likely be lined up with class mate Ray Pigozzi who had a career high 3 assists in the 5-2 Minutemen victory over the Spartans last season.
3 Keys for MSU Success
Quick Start- UMass has 15 underclassmen making a long road trip to begin their season. Taking away hope and confidence early will be key for the Spartans. Munn hopefully will be packed for the first weekend of the season and help this effort along.
Neutralize the Pigozzi-Iacobellis line- These two players are the only known threats carried over from last season. They had a great series against the Spartans last year and shutting them down will be key this weekend. Look for Josh Jacobs to be lined up against this top line all weekend.
Score 3 Goals- The Spartans can make any goaltender look great and that must begin to change this weekend. Jake Hildebrand tips the goaltending battle the Spartans way and if he can just get some goal support a sweep is highly plausible for the Spartans.
Analysis: No predictions from me this early in the season and I won't be able to see this game so I'll be relying on radio to make judgments. I'll be interested to see how the top two Spartan lines perform and am excited to see Josh Jacobs against a real team. If the Spartans can get some power play opportunities I think that unit could be very impressive this weekend and get some confidence before heading east next weekend. Also the UMass game info sheet from their SID said the Spartans are ranked 7th in a 6 team B1G conference. #DISRESPEKT
Around the B1G: The Spartans-Minutemen series is a part of the B1G-Hockey East challenge, which is in its 2nd year of existence. Also a part of the challenge is New Hampshire visiting Michigan this weekend for a pair of games at Yost. Undefeated Penn State travels to Alaska to play in the Brice Alaska Gold Rush against both UA-Anchorage and Fairbanks. Miami (OH) and Ohio State will play a home and home series, while Wisconsin plays Northern Michigan with a pair of games in Green Bay. Minnesota is off this weekend.