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Spartan Hockey Preview: The Ohio State Buckeyes

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The Spartans' B1G Season begins tonight in Columbus

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

This week marks the beginning of the conference season in the B1G for hockey and the Spartans are hitting the road to face-off against the team that ended their season last March. The Buckeyes defeated the Spartans 2-1 in overtime in the B1G Tournament last March, as the Spartans went 0-2-3 against the Buckeyes last season.

This season the Spartans have played a tough out of conference slate and sit at 3-6 overall with an improved offense but not an improved record. The B1G has had a rough out of conference season, save for Minnesota, and 2-6 place in the league looks to be wide open. Last weekend the Spartans lost to Boston College 3-2, while Ohio State split a series with Bowling Green. Getting at least a split on their road series and sweeps at home could mean a better than expected season for the Spartans. It starts tonight in Columbus and they even made it onto TV for us all.

The Ohio State Buckeyes 3-6-1 (0-0 B1G)

Time/TV: 7:00 Thursday & Friday, TV Thursday: Fox Sports Detroit Plus, None Friday

Radio: Spartan Sports Network

Ohio State Blog: Land-Grant Holy Land

Ohio State Buckeyes Stats Match-Up (National Rank) Michigan State Spartans
2.40 (37) Goals Scored/Game 2.33 (38)
3.00 (39)  Goals Against/Game 2.56 (29)
6-of-40 15.00% (32) Power Play Percentage 4-of-40 10.00% (48)
30-of-36 83.3% (30) Penalty Kill Percentage 30-of-33 90.9% (9)
Tanner Fritz (Sr) 3G, 6A 9pts Leading Scorer Michael Ferrantino (Jr) 5G, 3A 8pts

Matt Tomkins (So) 2-3-1 2.29 GAA, .910 save %

Or

Christian Frey (So) 1-3-0 3.77 GAA, .903 save %

Expected Goaltenders

Jake Hildebrand (Jr)  3-6 2.47 GAA .

912 save %

It's been a bit of a different season in Columbus this year. After Christian Frey came in mid-season last year and surprised pretty much everyone going 9-4-3 with a .929 save percentage, things have come down a little for the Buckeyes' sophomore goaltender. This season Frey has split time with Matt Tomkins and neither has really stood out as the answer for coach Steve Rohlik. Tomkins played in 17 games last season, including a home win and tie over Michigan State, and has been starting most Friday night games, while Frey has been starting Saturday's. I would expect the same pattern to hold this weekend against the Spartans.

On offense the Buckeyes are having to replace their top two scorers from a year ago in Ryan Dzingel and Max McCormick. After both players left early for the pros, the Buckeyes would turn to their other two scorers with over 30 points Tanner Fritz and Nick Oddo to lead the way this season. Fritz was selected captain this season and has lived up to expectations, leading the Buckeyes in scoring with nine points. Much like last season Fritz is more of a distributor than goal scorer with six assists to just three goals.  Other players to watch are Anthony Greco and Nick Schilkey. Greco has already matched his five goal output from last season and is the current team leader in goals. Schilkey as a freshman last year put up 13 goals and after a slow start to this year did register his first goal last Saturday against Bowling Green.

3 Keys to Spartan Success

  1. Take Control Early- Value City Arena is not an intimidating place to play. Unlike Wisconsin, who can pack the Kohl Center for hockey, Ohio State throws their hockey team in a basketball arena and gets absolutely no atmosphere. This is a good road series for the Spartans to get some confidence going and taking control early in the game is crucial.
  2. Help Jake Hildebrand- Hildebrand has been inconsistent for his typical high standards. Ohio State has some talent up front and the Spartans need to make sure Hildebrand can see every shot and keep odd-man rushes to a minimum. The team may be used to leaning on Hildebrand to save them since, he usually can but right now he is fighting the puck a little bit.
  3. Berry-Ferrantino-Cox Line- After beginning the season with Mackenzie MacEachern on their wing, Michael Ferrantino and Matt Berry have actually seemed to click even more with Joe Cox. Ferrantino and Berry are the top two scorers on the team and will be counted on heavily in this series.
Prediction
I think Michigan State is the superior team. They have played top teams like UMass-Lowell and Boston University tight on the road and are more tested than the Buckeyes. Ohio State is searching for consistent scoring and a goaltender to take the reins. I'd love to predict a sweep but still can't do that until the Spartans prove they can. I'll say MSU wins Thursday 3-1 and loses Friday 5-3.
Around the B1G
Every B1G team is in action this weekend, however Minnesota's game is an exhibition against the US Under 18 team. Penn State and Michigan open the conference season with a series in Ann Arbor. Wisconsin is hitting the road looking for it's first win of the season, playing two former Colorado WCHA foes in Colorado College and Denver.
Extra Pucks in the Bag
I wanted to congratulate Arizona State on elevating their hockey team to the division one status. The Sun Devils will play a hybrid schedule of club and NCAA opponents next season, be an independent in 2016-2017 and join a conference for the 2017-2018 season. The Sun Devils have built a powerhouse club roster that went 38-2 last season and won the ACHA Division 1 crown over Robert Morris. I got into some good Twitter debate basically saying that ASU won't succeed because there is no players to recruit. First I present the ASU roster currently, including 3 players from Arizona, 8 from Canada and 2 from Michigan. ASU should be able to recruit Western Canada, California and the Northwest. Offer any kid from snowy regions a full ride, sunny temps year round, a party school, ASU girls and the chance to play D1 hockey? Yeah, I don't think ASU will have trouble fielding a team.

I'm hoping we can use this space as a "Game Thread" if you're watching or following along on radio. Be sure to follow me on twitter dot com @Jeremy_Dewar for MSU Hockey updates. Go Green!