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Hockey Preview: #5 Michigan Wolverines

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The Spartans face the buzzsaw that is Michigan hockey this weekend looking to make a better showing

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

Embarrassing. Reaching a new low. Time for a change. Those were some thoughts of most MSU Spartans hockey fans a month ago when the Michigan Wolverines swept the Michigan State Spartans in a weekend series  The Wolverines outscored the Spartans 15-5 in that series, and generally made the Spartans look like a club team playing the varsity. It was a new low for a program that has a disastrous year under 5th year head coach Tom Anastos. It was a low that brought Michigan bloggers to call for a coaching change to bring about a return to an actual rivalry in hockey.

This weekend the Spartans will have a chance for some redemption as they will play a set of games against the Wolverines beginning tonight in Detroit at Joe Louis Arena. The Spartans are coming off of a weekend split with Ohio State, their first win in 9 games, and have seemed to play better since the dismantling at the hands of Michigan. Unfortunately, for the Spartans, the Wolverines have won three straight games scoring 21 goals in those three games.

The top duo in all of college hockey this season resides in Ann Arbor with junior Tyler Motte (22G, 13A) and freshman Kyle Connor (20G, 22A)each scoring more than 20 goals on the season. JT Compher (9G, 27A) is second on the team in points with 36 and completes the trio of Wolverines in the top 7 in scoring nationally, with Connor being the tops in the country. There are so many scoring threats for the Wolverines that I could spend an entire 3 paragraphs rattling off their stats, but will instead link to their scoring page here (enter at your risk).

With the breakneck pace of play that the Wolverines have had all season, it does have the opportunity to hang their goaltenders out to dry. The Wolverine defenseman are still prone to turnovers in dangerous parts of the ice, but they seemed to have settled on Steve Racine between the pipes for better or worse. Racine sports a 3.03 goals against average, and a .908 save percentage which is pretty pedestrian but he has been consistent on making the saves he needs to make. Last weekend did see Racine give up a bad goal on a puck flipped from center ice, but it shows some development in Racine's game that the goal was somewhat surprising. He is not going to win a Mike Richter Award for best goaltender in NCAA hockey but Racine only has to do so much to give his team a chance to win when they score over 4 goals per game.

Taking a look at the stats

Michigan State Spartans (6-18-2) Stat (National Rank) #6 Michigan Wolverines (16-3-4)
2.42 (43) Team Offense 5.00 (1)
3.50 (50) Team Defense 3.13 (45)
14-of-101 13.86% (45) Power Play % 25-of-91 27.47% (4)
81-of-95 85.3% (11) Penalty Kill % 65-of-82 79.3% (47)
47.5% (45) Corsi For 53.3% (17)
47% (43) Corsi For Close 53.1% (17)
5 NHL Draft Picks 12

3 Keys for Spartan Success

  1. Play with nothing to lose- No one is expecting this weekend to go well for the Spartans, especially after the drubbing they took last time (including a 9-2 loss on home ice). In the second game of that series the Spartans showed a ton of fight, but just lacked in the firepower to actually defeat the Wolverines. If they want to win this weekend they need to play unafraid, and loose. Defensive systems will be key but Michigan is going to get their goals so MSU will need to feel comfortable on trying to answer the best offense in the country.
  2. Jake Hildebrand- Hildy was pulled in both games last two times these two teams met. This may be his last two games against the Wolverines in a pretty awesome career for him individually. If the Spartans are able to win a game against the Wolverines it will likely be behind a career night from Hildebrand.
  3. Pride- The Spartans do not have a single advantage talent wise outside of the net. They will only make the NCAA tournament if they win the B1G Championship in March (which by no means makes this season a success if that were to happen). This team in the locker room has good leadership, and in my opinion great kids regardless of talent. I hope for their sake they play with the pride they should have to be a Division I hockey player at Michigan State, and leave it all out on the ice tonight.

Quotable
We saw some (U-M scoring) chances in the (previous) Michigan games where we kind of vacated the house – the middle of the ice. And it’s little things like stopping and turning up ice quickly to pick off people, controlling guys in the corners and not letting them spin off and get chances at the net and making a play to clear the puck that really make a difference

-Joe Cox on facing Michigan this weekend

Game Info

Time

7:30 PM Friday (Joe Louis Arena)

5:00 PM Saturday (Munn Arena)

TV

Fox Sports Detroit Friday

BTN Saturday

Streaming on BTN2Go both nights

Radio Spartan Sports Network

Prediction

Michigan sweeps in less embarrassing fashion.

Around the B1G

Wisconsin and Ohio State are off this weekend while Penn State will travel to Minneosta.