With nine freshman on the No. 13 MSU hockey team’s roster, most of the rookies don’t know what they are getting into this weekend when the team travels to Yost Ice Arena on Friday night to face No. 6 Michigan.
One of the freshmen even asked MSU head coach Rick Comley on Monday what the rivalry is all about.
Senior co-captain and forward Nick Sucharski took it upon himself to help educate the underclassmen on what he calls the “biggest hockey rivalry in the nation.”
“Both teams hate each other and both teams come to play,” Sucharski said.
“If you can get up for the games, you can feed off it. That’s something we have to make sure the freshmen know, and they are starting to get it.”
Because freshman forward Derek Grant is from Abbotsford, British Columbia, he wasn’t aware of the heated rivalry when he came to MSU.
But he’s quickly learned what the rivalry is all about.
“To be in here at MSU, you see the hatred between the two schools and you hear about it,” said Grant, who leads all rookies nationally with 12 points.
“I’m looking forward to it and experiencing something like this.”
Playing at Yost Ice Arena normally is tough to begin with, but the extra hoopla surrounding last season’s slashing incident by MSU junior forward Corey Tropp on U-M senior defenseman Steve Kampfer will make the building even more rowdy.
But the Spartans said they aren’t thinking about last year’s incident, which resulted in a season-ending suspension for Tropp.
“We are going into this weekend like any other rivalry weekend with them,” junior forward Andrew Rowe said.
“The past is the past and there’s nothing new. I’ve forgot about it — maybe their fans didn’t — but I think it’s going to be a good battle between both teams.”
Comley called unnecessary penalties “the biggest problem we have right now.”
In the Spartans’ last four games, three MSU freshmen have been whistled for game misconduct penalties for checking from behind.
And Comley said those penalties can’t happen this weekend against the Wolverines.
“The young kids have done a really good job helping us win games, but penalties have cost us also,” Comley said. “I want them to play hard, but they have to make some better decisions at better times.”
Comley said the transition to collegiate refereeing has been the major problem with the unnecessary penalties.
“I don’t think (the freshmen) go over the edge,” Comley said. “I think in the junior leagues there’s more contact allowed. Then they step into this, and there’s a whole different refereeing philosophy.”