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The Only Hockey Recap: Splitting With Michigan, a New Big Ten Leader Emerges

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A beautiful 3-0 win in Ann Arbor followed up by a heartrbreaking shootout loss back home.

The third weekend of January was an amazing week of #CawlidgeHawkey in the Big Ten as well as around the nation. First off, Ohio State completed a road sweep of Penn State (including a seven-round shootout on Friday night). Wisconsin split with Minnesota. Additionally, future Big Ten hockey participant Notre Dame finished with a tie on Friday and a 3-0 win on Saturday night in a home series with New Hampshire. When the national rankings come out this week the Big Ten is sure to see some shifting as Penn State should drop (#2 Denver split with St. Cloud State and #3 Boston swept Maine and is a solid fit at the top spot). Minnesota will hold the top spot in the Big Ten this week, followed by Penn State and Wisconsin. Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State round out the bottom three.

Now on to the Spartans. I did not catch the tilt in Ann Arbor on Friday night because I was out seeing Silence in theaters (which is a phenomenal film, definitely go see it). However, I was elated to hear about a shutout on the road over Michigan. I was in attendance on Saturday evening hoping for an encore performance.

First off, hats off to the crowd at Munn this evening. Munn was sold out and the Spartans gave the Green and White faithful a lot to cheer about throughout the game. There was a ton of “yellow and blue” in the crowd and they were kept relatively quiet throughout the night. MSU definitely responded to an enthusiastic crowd. Play was dictated by MSU for the most part and this resulted in a number of quality chances in the offensive zone. However, failure to convert on quality scoring opportunities both on initial shots as well as second-opportunity chances handcuffed a phenomenal effort from the Spartans. MSU was by far the more physical team tonight and that led to the Michigan transition game playing a lot of “chip and chase” through the neutral zone. MSU played this style of transition quite a bit themselves, but physical play and well-timed neutral zone turnovers helped to open up some space for the Spartans entering the offensive zone on multiple occasions. My favorite aspect of tonight’s game had to be watching MSU on the transition when they were clicking.

Special Teams:

Michigan was held to an 0-3 performance on the man-advantage on Saturday. That is a great sign for MSU moving forward. However, MSU went just 1-5 on the power play. That 1-5 represents numerous missed chances (that were very good chances) that could have turned this game into a regulation win for the Spartans. Missed opportunities was the deciding factor in tonight’s game.

Forwards:

The Hirose-Appleton-Cox line was a treat to watch. From what I saw, Appleton was clearly the most talented player on the ice. His ability to create space both for himself and his linemates was spectacular. The other lines brought a physical presence that disrupted Michigan in both ends of the ice. Hirose and Appleton were my highlight for this unit tonight. They created numerous chances. Capitalizing on these chances moving forward will be a big factor in whether or not MSU can be competitive the rest of the season.

Defenseman:

Zach Osburn and Butrus Ghafari were phenomenal tonight for two very different reasons. Osburn’s ability to move the puck from the back end helped the transition game tremendously and kept Michigan’s forecheckers off-balance all night. Ghafari, on the other hand, was a monster to get through. Michigan forwards were continually running in to the brick wall in the neutral zone that was #44. Ghafari set the tone early with his physical play and never allowed anyone wearing blue to feel comfortable with the puck when he was on the ice.

Now we come to Ed Minney. Minney played a great game stopping all but two of the shots he faced. However, it is the second goal that really stings. That said, that goal was 0% on him. Minney dealt with a tough screen as well as a wide-open point shot on the second goal. That is a play that cannot happen, especially in close games. All said, Minney played a great game and kept MSU in it all the way through the final goal of the shootout that sealed the win for Michigan.

If Michigan State can start to capitalize on the chances that they get in the offensive zone, then they should be playing even the top teams in the Big Ten much closer. Albeit, Michigan is not a great measuring stick. However, MSU played well enough to win in a regulation game over a conference rival. The effort was there, the chances were there. Capitalizing on solid play can certainly go along way towards being competitive with and ultimately (hopefully) beating some of the top teams in the Big Ten come tournament time.