Today is a long day for the MSU hockey team.
The No. 12 Spartans were scheduled to board the bus at 5 a.m. and won’t arrive in Fairbanks, Alaska, until midnight Eastern Standard Time.
Yes, that’s 17 hours of travel time.
The icers will voyage from Detroit to Seattle to Anchorage and to finally Fairbanks with six total hours of layover time between flights.
To try and rid inevitable jet lag, the Spartans will practice when they land tonight.
There will be countless undesirable variables for the team in this weekend’s crucial conference series.
First, there’s the four-hour time change. Then, there’s the adjustment to the Olympic-sized ice. Finally, today’s high in Fairbanks was expected to be minus 10, according weather.com.
“We have to try not to make too big of a deal of it,” MSU hockey head coach Rick Comley said. “The going and the coming are terrible, but once you are there I don’t think travel has anything to do with the games.”
Next week, the Spartans have a bye weekend to recover from the long trip. This has spurred the team into a “leave it all on the ice mentality” for this weekend’s series against the Nanooks.
“Going to Alaska in February isn’t the best time to go there,” junior forward Dustin Gazley said. “It’s a long trip. But these next six games, and especially these next two this weekend, are very important for the rest of the season and to build off into the playoffs.”
Freshman defenseman Torey Krug was named the CCHA, Rookie of the Month on Tuesday for the second straight month.
Krug plays on MSU’s top defensive pair, alongside junior defenseman and co-captain Jeff Petry.
The Livonia, Mich., native is the CCHA’s top-scoring defenseman, with three goals and 13 assists. Two of Krug’s goals have been game-winners.
“He and Petry have complimented each other really well,” Comley said. “I still think they are the best pair in the country. As a pair, I can’t imagine another pair of defensemen who both contribute. They are both better players because of each other.”
Along with being a standout defenseman for MSU, Krug has established himself as a physical presence on the team. Comley best described him as “feisty.”
During last weekend’s series against Michigan, Krug found himself in the middle of several scrums, despite being one of the smallest Spartans on the roster at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds.
Growing up in Livonia brought Krug into the MSU vs. U-M rivalry at young age, and he said he’s happy with his decision to come to MSU.
“(The rivalry) is one of those things you feel honored to be a part of,” Krug said. “I said before, anywhere that wasn’t Maize and Blue was the right spot for me. I can’t stand those guys.”
Krug leads the team with 55 penalty minutes and has relished his role as an in-your-face style player.
“Whenever I step on the ice, I have a tendency to get under the other team’s skin a little bit,” Krug said. “I think the other players might see me on the ice and target me a little bit, but it’s just the nature of the game and the way I play.”
Lock it up
Of the Spartans’ 30 games this season, 22 have been decided by two goals or fewer.
This includes MSU’s last two losses, which came in heartbreaking fashion to Ohio State and U-M. The Spartans fell to the Buckeyes with 1:07 remaining on a wraparound goal after MSU lost a battle behind the goal line. Then on Saturday, MSU gave up two goals in the last five minutes of the game en route to a 5-4 loss to U-M.
The last-minute losses have Comley concerned. He said he’s been looking for a pairing he can trust to put out on the ice in the waning moments of the game to close out a victory.
Comley said the mismatched pairing might not necessarily be players from the Spartans’ top two lines.
“We’ve had our best players on the ice in our last two losses,” Comley said. “When you give up the goal to Ohio State and those two goals to U-M at this time of the year, that doesn’t sit well with you.”