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Great Lakes Invitational: Western Michigan vs. Michigan State Preview

Special teams will be the key in the first GLI game against Western Michigan.

Michigan State v Massachusetts-Lowell Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

It’s that time of year again: the Great Lakes Invitational.

The Michigan State Spartans hockey team will host No. 4/4 Western Michigan at East Lansing’s Munn Ice Arena on Dec. 29. MSU hosts No. 18/- Michigan Tech on Dec. 30. Meanwhile, Michigan will play an opposite schedule: Michigan Tech on Dec. 29, and the Wolverines were supposed to play Western Michigan on Dec. 30, but has since canceled due to health and safety protocols within the program. All games in the GLI will be on B1G+.

Michigan State’s first game against Western Michigan will be a good matchup, as it is the Spartans’ toughest test since playing No. 3 Michigan earlier in the season. It will be a nice way to see where MSU stacks up against one of the best teams in college hockey.

The Spartans are coming off of a nice series against Notre Dame, where MSU came away with a split. After surrendering a two-goal lead in the first game versus the Fighting Irish, fifth-year senior Mitchell Lewandowski scored the game-winning goal in overtime to secure a shutout victory for senior goaltender Drew DeRidder. DeRidder had the primary assist as well.

DeRidder has been playing the best hockey of his career. After the game against Notre Dame, his goals-against fell to 1.99. His save percentage rose to .945 (second in Big Ten) and he secured First Star of the Week in the Big Ten for the second time this season. He has tied his career-high seven wins in a season and is looking for an eighth.

Lewandowski has been important for the Spartans this season as well. Either him or DeRidder could make easy cases for the MVP of Michigan State’s team this season. Without Lewandowski in the starting lineup, MSU is 1-4. In games with Lewandowski, the Spartans are 10-2-1.

Defense has also been important for goal production. Dennis Cesana is fourth on the team in points scored with 10. Meanwhile, Lewandowski leads the team in points scored with 18, despite missing 28 percent of games due to injury.

Perhaps most intriguing stat, Michigan State’s key to the game is special teams. The Spartans are 7-1-1 when scoring one or more power play goals this season, and 6-1-1 when not allowing any power play goals. It will be important to stay out of the box and play defense aggressively, as was the case in the series against Notre Dame.

Western Michigan has had a surprising, impressive season. The Broncos are up to No. 4 in the USCHO and USA Today/USA Hockey polls. However, WMU ended a seven-game winning streak on Dec. 11 with a loss to the University of Omaha at Nebraska. The Broncos will be looking to rebound against Michigan State.

Western Michigan us 13-5 overall and in second place in the NCHC standings (6-4 in conference play), behind North Dakota. The Fighting Hawks actually sit behind the Broncos in the polls, at No. 5/5.

The schedule for Western Michigan was no cupcake, either. The Broncos have split series against No. 14/15 Omaha, No. 5/6 Minnesota-Duluth, and No. 3/3 Michigan, while sweeping No. 7/7 St. Cloud State. WMU’s only sweep suffered came at the hands of No. 8/8 Denver.

If Michigan State were to defeat Western Michigan, it would make MSU the first unranked team to win against the Broncos.

The game will air at 7 p.m. Eastern Time on B1G+.