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Hockey Preview: Lake Superior State Lakers

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For the 2nd and 3rd time this season the Spartans face off against their old CCHA foe

Starting tonight the Michigan State Spartans hockey team will welcome their former league opponent, as well as a former Spartan coach and player, to Munn Arena for a two game series. The Lake Superior State Lakers (1-3) of the WCHA will be making their first appearance in East Lansing since January 2012, back before the horrible hockey realignment apocalypse.

These two teams have already met once this season, in the Ice Breaker Tournament in Maine on the opening week of the season, with the Spartans winning 4-1. That score is a bit deceiving as it was a close 2-1 game heading into the third period where the Spartans pulled away on a Mackenzie MacEachern goal just 12 seconds into the final frame. The Spartans are coming off being swept at Denver last weekend where they were victimized by defensive zone breakdowns and were supremely dominated on Saturday. Lake Superior State played a league rivalry series against Northern Michigan last weekend, losing 6-3 in Marquette before rebounding for a 4-0 win at home on Saturday.

In that 4-0 victory freshman goaltender Nick Kossoff became the first goaltender in history to record a shutout in his college debut. Kossoff came to the Sault after a strong season in the NAHL with the Keystone Ice Miners (14-10-2, .931 save percentage) and I would expect that he gets at least one start in Munn Arena this weekend. The Spartans faced sophomore Gordon Defiel in Maine and he has struggled all year, surrendering four or more goals in each of his three starts.

The top five Lakers in scoring are all freshman with Mitch Hults leading the team with three goals. Hults is a big 20 year old freshman who is coming from three seasons in the USHL and he scored two of his goals in the 6-3 loss to NMU last weekend.  Freshman Josh Nenadal did not play in the Ice Breaker Tournament, but after being inserted into the lineup last weekend he scored a goal in each game. Since it is so early in a season it is still hard to know who will stand out this weekend so look for the Spartans to try and force their style of play on the Lakers. LSSU will look to slow the game down and use their size to turn each game into a grinding affair, while the Spartans should look to use their speed in space to create offensive chances.

3 keys to Spartan success

  1. Penalty Kill Continues- The penalty kill has killed 18 straight opportunities and has only surrendered a single power play goal all season. The Lakers will be the underdog in this series and one way they can pull off the upset is to capitalize on all of their man-advantage opportunities. For Michigan State to get out of this weekend with a sweep they will need a strong penalty kill.
  2. Better D-Zone Coverage- The Spartans struggled with defensive zone coverage breakdowns last weekend against Denver, especially at the end of shifts. Denver was successful with bringing the puck behind the net and making a low-to-high pass to an open defenseman who were able to get dangerous chances on Jake Hildebrand. That is now on tape and the Spartans have better expect every opponent to try and pull the same moves on them.
  3. Mackenzie MacEachern- The junior had two goals against the Lakers, but outside of that game has just a single assist and is a -5 on the season. Look for MacEachern to have a multi-goal series if the Spartans are to sweep the Lakers. With injuries moving guys up the line-up the top 6 forwards must look to carry the offensive output.

Injuries
The Spartans' injury situation still remains a concern early in the season. Villiam Haag did return to play in Denver last weekend, after not practicing with any contact all year. However, Saturday night Matt DeBlouw received a lower-body injury that will sideline him 4-6 weeks. Ryan Keller has skated individually and is listed as questionable for this weekend, as is Michael Ferrantino who traveled to Denver but did not dress last weekend. Those are three of the top nine forwards who are going to possibly be missing for the Spartans this weekend.

Prediction
I sit at 3-0-1 after predicting the sweep loss to Denver last season. I'll say this weekend we finally get to see sophomore goaltender Edwin Minney start a regular season game and the Spartans sweep Lake Superior 3-1, 6-4.

Around the B1G
Wisconsin is traveling to the Mitten as they will take on Ferris State in Big Rapids, looking for their first win of the season. Ohio State is heading east to take on the defending national champions, the #3 Providence Friars. Michigan plays Friday at #18 Union and Saturday at RPI. American International visits Penn State for a series and Minnesota also hosts a home series against struggling Northeastern.