After a successful undefeated opening weekend, where the offense showed signs of marked improvement, the Spartans' hockey team will travel to Colorado to face a huge early season test. Michigan State will take on the 5th ranked University of Denver Pioneers at Magness Arena. The Pioneers are coming off a series split with the Air Force Academy, rebounding from a 5-4 Friday night road defeat, to win the Saturday home affair 3-1. Denver will test the defense of the Spartans this weekend,as Denver returns three of their top five scorers from a team that was ranked 9th nationally in goals scored last season.
Danton Heinen was the leading scorer for the Pioneers last season as a freshman with 45 points in 40 games played. Heinen was the NCHC Rookie of the Year and will be joined up front by talented players Quentin Shore and Trevor Moore. Moore scored a team leading 22 goals last season and Shore scored twice last weekend in the series against the Falcons. Senior defenseman Nolan Zajac, brother of NHLer Travis Zajac, currently leads the team with three points and had the game winning goal for the Pioneers last Saturday.
Between the pipes the Pioneers played two goaltenders last weekend. Evan Cowley was in the net for the Saturday win making 26 saves and I expect that both Cawley and Tanner Jaillet will play against the Spartans last weekend. The Pioneers played with rotating goalies last season and third year head coach Jim Montgomery has said the two operate better when they split duties. If there is a weakness for the Spartans to take advantage of, it is likely that Jake Hildebrand will be the better goalie each night this weekend. Of course, that will be a common theme throughout the season.
Injuries, it's the Michigan State way
Apparently the injury bug has not just infiltrated the football locker room in East Lansing. The Spartans already have four injuries, just one week into the season. Junior forward Villiam Haag did not play at all last weekend and senior captain Michael Ferrantino suffered an upper body injury in the game against Lake Superior State on Saturday. Ferrantino did not return to the game after leaving the bench during the second period, and coach Tom Anastos has said both players are questionable for this weekend. Junior forward Ryan Keller was injured last Friday early, sat out Saturday, and will not be making the trip to Denver. Sophomore forward Dylan Pavelek got his leg gashed open by a skate on Friday night, and will also not be making the trip to Denver.
Going down four forwards is a tough blow to the Spartans, especially when they will be playing a team that can light the scoreboard up. However, with just six scholarship defensemen on the roster, Anastos will probably take some forward injuries over losses to his blue line.
<iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/T2e5fKBQGOw" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
3 Keys to Spartan Success
- Offense from Defense- Last weekend saw Freshman defenseman Zach Osburn contribute with two goals on the weekend. The Spartans, especially being down possibly four forwards this weekend, will need offensive contributions from their defenseman. It doesn't necessarily need to be goals but if the defenseman are active and looking to jump up in the play, that can push play out of their own zone away from the dangerous Pioneers' forwards.
- Win Special Teams Again- Last weekend saw the Spartans kill 8 penalties in a row, 8-for-9 on the weekend, while scoring on 4 of 15 power play opportunities. That is a heck of a weekend on special teams and the Spartans will need to continue that type of effort to beat the Pioneers.
- Slow the game down- Denver is a team that on pure speed can beat the Spartans. Michigan State should look to slow the game down by playing physical in the neutral zone and make plays at the blue line to stop the Denver transition game. This weekend will be an early test for the rebuilding Michigan State blue line and look for John Draeger and Travis Walsh to log a ton of minutes.
Catching up on recruiting news
August saw the Spartans add two commitments to their 2016-17 class, while losing one from that class as well. Tommy Apap, a 19 year old forward from Bloomfield Hills, is playing his first season in the USHL with the Fargo Force, after a season with Wichita Falls in the NAHL. Apap is a center who contributed 39 points in 57 games playing junior hockey for the first time last season. Apap played his high school hockey at University of Detroit Jesuit with 63 points in just 29 games in his last season playing high school. Joining the "Honeybaked" class with Apap, is 20 year old Illinois native Sam Saliba. Saliba already has six points in just four games with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL this season, and is a product of the Team Illinois AAA program.
This recruiting class currently sits at a total of nine players. Marcel Godbout, who was originally committed to the Spartans for two seasons ago, has changed his twitter bio and is not listed as a commit on the College Hockey Inc. website. It appears that he may no longer be committed and this class is fluid as someone else may, like Godbout was, be pushed to other years. No matter what Anastos has compiled quite the influx of talent coming to East Lansing in the near future.
Also, Michigan Hockey Magazine caught up with 2017-18 commit Tommy Miller who was the 4th overall pick in the USHL draft and is playing defense for Victory Honda Midget Major this season.