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Hockey Preview: New Hampshire Wildcats

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The Spartans welcome a top five offense to Munn Arena this weekend

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

This weekend the 2-3 Spartans hockey team will get back to work after a week off, hosting the New Hampshire Wildcats (3-2-1) from Hockey East. It will be a strong test for the Spartans, especially after a disappointing split with the Lake Superior State Lakers two weeks ago. The last two wins for the Wildcats have been over top 20 teams, beating Union College 5-2 two weeks ago and Merrimack 4-2 last weekend.

New Hampshire currently boasts the fifth best offense in college hockey, scoring 4.50 goals per game, with two goals being the lowest output they have had all season. Tyler Kelleher (Jr. Longmeadow, Mass.) is the nations leading scorer with 3 goals and 10 assists for 13 points. The top line for the Wildcats is composed of Kelleher, Andrew Potularski (So. Williamsville, NY) and Dan Correale (Sr. Prince George, B.C.) which has combined for 13 goals and 19 assists. In contrast, the entire Michigan State team has combined for 13 goals on the season. So, it is easy to see how this week will bring a clash of differing styles.

After the top line, the Wildcats have depth in their scoring, with nine more players having at least 3 points on the season, but only one other forward has more than three points. Maxim Gaudreault (Sr. Annapolis, MD) has 4 goals and 1 assist with 2 goals coming on the power play. He will be a player that the 6th ranked Spartans' penalty kill will be keeping a close watch on this series. Look for the Spartans to match Travis Walsh on defense and the 2nd line of JT Stenglein, Thomas Ebbing and Joe Cox against the Wildcats' top line most of the weekend. The Spartans will try to make New Hampshire beat them with depth scoring, rather than get into a shootout.

Michigan State has not scored more than two goals in a game since the season opening Ice Breaker Tournament in Maine, scoring 2 goals 3 times in the last 4 games, with the fourth game being a shutout loss to Denver. Michigan State will have to look for at least 3 goals each night to give itself the best chance to win, and look to take advantage of a young Wildcats defense. The Wildcats have just one senior defenseman on the roster and their sophomore and freshman defenseman play big minutes. Currently, New Hampshire ranks 43 in the country (tied with Michigan) giving up 3.33 goals per game, including giving up 4 third period goals to UMass in a 6-6 tie. In net the Wildcats have a tandem of sophomore goalies with Adam Clark (Sherwood Park, AB) starting the past two games after Daniel Tirone (Trumbull, CT) started the first four games. I would expect Clark to start both games this weekend, since Tirone has been on the bench since the UMass game, but the Spartans should look to test him often to try and rattle his confidence.

The match-up of the weekend will be between the power play unit for New Hampshire and the penalty kill for Michigan State. The Spartans have killed 25 straight penalties, their best streak since the 2008 team killed 26 straight, and sit ranked as the 6th best PK in the country (25-of-26 killed, 96.2%). New Hampshire meanwhile is the 17th best power play (8-of-37, 21.62%) with Poturalski (3 goals), Correale (2 goals) and Gaudreault (2 goals) leading the way on the man advantage. Jake Hildebrand will have to be the Spartans best player this weekend (like every weekend) but especially will need to lead the way during penalty kill situations. Look for Hildebrand to cover the puck at any opportunity to slow down creative opportunities for the Wildcats and disrupt the flow of the game.

How to Watch/Listen this weekend

Friday night's game will be streamed on BTN+, with MSU students doing the play-by-play, and Saturday's game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Detroit and streaming on BTN2Go. Both games start at 7:00 P.M. so Saturday be sure to flip to the game on commercials of the football game, halftime and hey maybe the football team will blow out Nebraska early so you can just tune into hockey! For radio both games will be broadcast on the Spartan Sports Network. Locally Friday will be broadcast on 1240 AM and Saturday will be broadcast on 730 AM.

3 Keys to Spartan Success

  1. Penalty Kill- As mentioned above this will be the match-up of the weekend. The Spartans have done great this season to be disciplined and stay out of the box, but when they do find themselves down a man this weekend New Hampshire will be testing them. The Spartans can't afford to give New Hampshire offense on the man advantage with how much the Spartans offense has struggled lately.
  2. Joe Cox defensive specialist- Cox is possibly the best defensive forward on the roster for the Spartans. I would look for his line to be matched up against the top line for New Hampshire and if the Spartans are going to win at all this weekend he has to be at the top of his game.
  3. Jake Hildebrand- This seems like a cop-out always listing Hildebrand, but with an offense like New Hampshire's coming to East Lansing Hildy needs to be amazing. He is coming off of his 11th career shutout and sits just one shutout shy of tying Jeff Lerg and Chad Alban for the 3rd most career shutouts in program history. Hildebrand will need to stand tall and will probably face 35-40 shots each night this weekend and will need to try and hold New Hampshire to under 2 goals each night to give his team a chance to win. It is a monumental task but one that he needs to do.
Prediction
I sit at 4-1-1 on the season, taking my first loss when Lake Superior state won a game in the last series. Also, perhaps due to LSSU winning the first game in the series, Edwin Minney did not get to start a game like I predicted. I think best case this weekend the Spartans find a way to get a tie, but it is hard to predict a win with the way the Spartans offense has struggled as of late. I'll say New Hampshire wins Friday 4-1 with the Spartans fighting back for a 2-2 tie on Saturday.

Around the B1G
It is a pretty light schedule this weekend for the league. Wisconsin travels to top-ranked and future MSU opponent North Dakota for a series. Minnesota is hitting the road for a series at #18 Notre Dame. Penn State is playing a single game on Friday at Niagara. Ohio State is off this weekend after an impressive split with a hot Mercyhurst team last weekend. Michigan is out of action this weekend, and will be searching for a goaltending answer after splitting with Robert Morris at home winning 5-3 Friday and losing 4-0 Saturday. Michigan is the sole B1G team still in the USCHO poll, falling down to 13.