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Deciding Fate: MSU vs. Michigan Hockey Preview

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The Spartans will decide their fate in the B1G standings this weekend against arch-rival Michigan

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

It is a rivalry that dates back to 1922. It has featured games on the Red Cedar River, Dem Hall, Munn Arena, Yost Arena, Spartan Stadium, Comerica Park, The Big House, Soldier Field and in 1956-57 featured a series in Phoenix, AZ and Albuquerque, N.M. And while this weekend will see the Spartans and Wolverines play games 303 and 304 in their rivalry, this weekend will provide a new twist. For the first time in the 74 years these two teams have played each other, there will be a B1G Hockey Conference Championship on the line.

The Spartans currently lead the B1G standings with 34 points, a single point ahead of Minnesota and Michigan and three points ahead of Penn State. While the Spartans will be playing a home-and-home series with the Wolverines, the Gophers and Nittany Lions will be playing a pair of games in Minnesota. The Spartans could theoretically end this weekend as regular season champions, finish second and earn a 1st round bye in the conference tournament or finish as low as 4th place. The fate of the Spartans' regular season will be decided in the friendly confines of Munn Arena and hostility of Yost Ice Arena this weekend.

Recent History

The Spartans and Wolverines have met three times this season, yet strangely enough this will be the first time they will play in their home rinks. The season series began at the finals of the Great Lakes Invitational where Michigan got a great performance from Steve Racine and won despite losing key contributors to the World Junior Championships. The Spartans turned in one of their best defensive performances on the year in late January, defeating Michigan 2-1 at Joe Louis Arena. The very next weekend in a sloppy game, on and off the ice, the Wolverines won in a cavernous Soldier Field 4-1.

Home Comforts

The weekend series will open up with the Spartans hosting senior night at Munn Arena Friday. The Spartans are 9-4-1 at Munn this season and have won seven straight at home. The Spartans haven't lost at home since losing to Minnesota 5-1 on December 5. With a new LED ribbon, video board and light system Munn has gotten quite the face lift and sell-out crowds have become a thing again in East Lansing. The atmosphere may suffer a little bit this weekend with the students on spring break so it will be interesting to see how the local fans respond.

Fire Power

Michigan averages 3.94 goals per game which leads the nation. It has been the mainstay for the Wolverines as they have struggled with a young defense and inconsistent goaltending. The Wolverines will be looking to open the game up and utilize their superior skating and offensive prowess. At the top the Spartans have to worry about Zach Hyman and Dylan Larkin. Hyman has a goal and two assists against the Spartans this season, a part of his team leading 48 points. Larkin, a sensational freshman and Red Wings' draft pick, missed the GLI game but has a power play goal and assist against the Spartans. Larkin's power play goal is the only one the Spartans have surrendered to the Wolverines and the Spartans will do well to shadow Larkin and Andrew Copp on the man advantage. Copp and Larkin each have 6 power play goals this season, tied for the team lead with Alex Kile. Finally, sophomore JT Compher who had struggled much of the season has come on as of late, with two hat tricks in the past three games.

The Antidote

The Spartans will look to answer the Wolverines fire power with strong team defense and Jake Hildebrand in net. This weekend the Spartans will sorely miss junior Travis Walsh (out-jaw) and will lean heavily on Hildebrand. Hildebrand, a Mike Richter Award candidate, is tied for the national lead with six shutouts. Since January 1, Hildebrand has a .952 save percentage and a 1.57 goals against average. For the Spartans to win a B1G title this weekend Jake Hildebrand will have to don the cape he has had since the calendar turned to 2015 and put the team on his back.

Stats Table, Game Info and Links

Time/TV: 7:00 PM Friday, 5:00 PM Saturday; Both nights on Fox Sports Detroit

Webstream: BTN2Go (Both nights)

Radio: Spartan Sports Network

SBN Michigan Site: Maize n Brew

Michigan State Spartans Stats Match-Up (National Rank) Michigan Wolverines
2.41 (42) Goals Scored/Game 3.94 (1)
2.19 (9) Goals Against/Game 3.00 (41)
21-of-119 17.65% (28) Power Play Percentage 29-of-118 24.53% (3)
96-of-111 86.5% (17) Penalty Kill Percentage 87-of-107 81.3% (37)
Matt Berry (Sr) 11G, 16A 27pts Leading Scorer Zach Hyman (Sr) 19G, 29A 48pts

Jake Hildebrand (Jr) 16-14-2

2.09 GAA, .930 save %

Expected Goaltenders

Zach Nagelvoort 2.64 GAA .908 save %

or

Steve Racine 3.18 GAA .901 save %

3 Keys to Success

  1. Avoid the Senior Night drag-Senior night is never easy. You throw off your pregame routine with a ceremony, your mind is filled with things beside hockey and focusing can be difficult. The Spartans can not afford to dig themselves a hole early and look to outgun the Wolverines. Finding a way to just get through the first ten minutes of the game and find their legs will be crucial for the green and white.
  2. Composure- There is no way around it, Michigan will be the team with experience in this situation. The Spartans haven't played meaningful, chance to win a championship hockey in years, while the Wolverines have been there before. The Spartans need to stay composed, play to their system that has gotten them to this point and avoid penalties. The Wolverines will run the Spartans off the ice if they are given too many power play opportunites.
  3. Enjoy this- While you want to maintain composure, let's enjoy this time huh. You have senior night, you are 9-3 in your last 12 games, it's Michigan week and you can shock the college hockey world and win a championship. Enjoy the moment, you have nothing to lose and get the job done.

Around the B1G

Minnesota will host Penn State and Wisconsin will host Ohio State. The Spartans control their own destiny though heading into Friday so let's do that and not worry about scoreboard watching.

Extra Pucks in the Bag

  • Former Spartan Dean Chelios will join his former teammate with the Alaska Aces (ECHL). Chelios was dealt from the Indianapolis Fuel to Alaska and had 2 goals and 11 assists in 30 games with Indy.
  • Torey Krug (2009-2012) got a one year $1.4 million extension with the Boston Bruins. The undrafted diminutive defenseman has 32 points in 63 games this season.
  • The Michigan State ACHA D3 (Club hockey) men's team has made it through pool play and to the national semi-finals down in Pelham, AL. They will play Bryn Athyn today at 4 PM and you can watch the game on fasthockey.com.
  • Be sure to tune in tonight to a LIVE TOC Podcast about ten minutes after the conclusion of the basketball game in the B1G tournament. Chris Joe and I will be discussing the basketball and a little bit of hockey. Look for the link to the live video feed in the post game thread following MSU vs. OSU.

Your Friday Jeremy YouTubes

I hate that i came up with this idea at the end of the season but it will be a staple of my previews going forward (#RetainJeremy). A little music, or funny video to get us through our Friday at work and excited about another weekend of hockey (think daily show moment of zen). Also think of it as a way to get to know your favorite hockey writer a little bit better (Come on it's me,  Katie Strang or Craig Custance, we have to be your favorites!)

So first up, a  staple of every hockey pregame mix I made in high school, Pantera-Cowboys From Hell

Have fun this weekend guys and look forward to seeing you in the LIVE post game thread tonight and leave any suggestions or ideas in the comments here or in the post game thread and I'll answer any questions live tonight!