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Hockey Preview: #19 Michigan Tech Huskies

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The Spartans welcome the Huskies to Munn Arena for a key non-conference series

Photo Credit: Matt Mitchell and MSU Athletics
Photo Credit: Matt Mitchell and MSU Athletics

This weekend, for the first time since November 26, 1986, the Michigan Tech Huskies will come to East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans. The two teams have met at least once every two seasons, during the Great Lakes Invitational, but haven't played home series against each other since Michigan Tech left the CCHA to return to the WCHA. In 2013 the Spartans went 0-2-1 against the Huskies enduring a sweep in Houghton before tying the Huskies outside at Comerica Park during the GLI.

This appears to be a different Spartans team than the 2013-14 version, as through nine games the Spartans are averaging 3.22 goals per game, good for 19th in the country and a large improvement over the past few seasons. The Spartans are led by forwards JT Stenglein (6 goals, 5 assists) and Mackenzie MacEachern (5 goals, 5 assists) who have reached double digit points much earlier in the season than in years past. The Spartans actually have five players who have produced more points than the leading scorers from Michigan Tech. The Huskies are a team in transition, having lost a ton of talent from last year's graduating class, but 5th year coach Mel Pearson has rebuilt this program to a stable place for the first time in decades.

Up front the Huskies will test the struggling Spartans defense corps with Seniors Alex Petan (Delta, British Columbia) and Malcolm Gould (North Vancouver, British Columbia). Petan scored a goal in each of the three games against the Spartans in 2013 and the undersized forward has plenty of talent to cause trouble for the Spartans this weekend. Michigan Tech is extremely dangerous on the power play, as 10 of their 28  goals on the season have come with the man advantage. All of Petan's three goals on the season have been on the power play, and the Spartans should also keep an eye on Joel L'Esperance (Brighton, MI) and Tyler Heinonen (Delano, MN) who have two power play goals a piece.

Michigan State Spartans (4-4-1) Stats Match-Up (National Rank) #19 Michigan Tech Huskies (6-4)
3.22 (19) Goals Scored/Game 2.80 (30)
2.78 (27) Goals Against/Game 2.20 (12)
6-of-47 12.77% (45) Power Play Percentage 10-of-37 27.03% (8)
34-of-38 89.5% (10) Penalty Kill Percentage 39-of-46 84.8% (22)

Jake Hildebrand (Sr)

4-4-1, 2.43 GAA, .916 save %

Expected Goaltenders

Jamie Phillips (Sr)

6-4-0, 2.19 GAA, ,920 save %

In net and on defense the Huskies have been pretty stout to start this season, with the most goals surrendered in a game being four in a loss to Northern Michigan. Jamie Phillips (Caledonia, ON) will provide a strong test for the Spartans this weekend, who should be brimming with confidence after scoring four goals on Thatcher Demko last weekend. Phillips is a big goaltender and will cover much of the net well so look for the Spartans to get him moving to find open shooting areas. Both teams are disciplined as well, so whoever takes advantage of the limited power play opportunities has the bets shot at winning this weekend.

Game Info

Date/Time

Saturday Nov. 21 7:00 P.M.

Sunday Nov. 22 4:00 P.M.

Streaming BTN2Go both days
Radio Spartan Sports Network

Spartans 3 keys to success

  1. Keep JT Stenglein hot- The junior forward has goals in four straight games and already this season has more points than he did his first two seasons combined. Confidence in hockey can do amazing things when it comes to scoring so the Spartans should look to keep feeding JT opportunities. Stenglein has one of the best shots on the team and he will need to pick his spots when shooting on a goaltender like Phillips.
  2. Discipline- The Huskies power play is crucial to their success, In their four losses they have gone a combined 2-for-12 on the power play, so if the Spartans are to get a sweep this weekend it will have to come with a strong effort from their special teams. Limiting the opportunities for Alex Petan and company to hurt the Spartans is the best way to shut down the power play of the Huskies.
  3. Defensive backline- A week ago the Boston College Eagles scored five goals on the Spartans (a sixth if you count empty net goals) and multiple goals were scored on long stretch passes that got behind the Spartan defense. Long stretch passes in hockey are similar to a vertical passing game in foorball, where you can "take the top of a defense" and change the tenor of the game. The Spartans defense needs to be mindful of their gaps this weekend and look for the Huskies to hit on long passes, since that is a weakness on tape.
Prediction
I believe in this Spartans team much more than I thought preseason. Their play since a bye week, after a split with Lake Superior State, has been excellent. The forwards are playing with confidence and an increase in goals against will happen when you open the throttle on offense. I'll say that Jake Hildebrand is up to a challenge this weekend, allowing the Spartans to keep playing aggressive and MSU sweeps the series 4-2, 3-1.

Around the B1G
#12 Michigan is travelling to Massachusetts for a marque match-up with #10 Boston University. Penn State is travelling a long distance for a series at Alaska-Anchorage. Wisconsin is hosting #9 Denver in Madison this weekend.

Recruiting Update
Five players this week signed their National Letter of Intent to join the Spartans next season. Right now the class has two forwards; Taro Hirose and Sam Saliba, two defenseman; Mitch Eliot and Ty Farmer and a goaltender John Lethemon. The Spartans have three more forwards and a defenseman that have committed for next season's class but they haven't signed their NLI yet. Coach Tom Anastos at his press conference did elude to the fact that they still may add to this class, and this was not final signing day so I wouldn't stress the lack of a few more names at this time.