Hot Spartans look to sweep final home series
Sophomore defenseman Jake Chelios skates up the ice as Michigan forward Alex Guptill chases after him, trying to hit the puck loose. The Spartans fell to the Wolverines 3-2 in overtime Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
Riding a hot streak that includes three wins in its last four games against Ohio State and Michigan, the No. 16 MSU hockey team will look to take care of business this weekend against Alaska.
The Spartans (16-12-4 overall, 11-10-3-2 CCHA) host the Nanooks (11-15-4, 8-14-4-2) in a two-game series Friday at 7:05 p.m. and Saturday (7:30 p.m., FS Detroit) at Munn Ice Arena, looking to make a jump in the CCHA standings.
Alaska has won just four of its last 10 games and has struggled to find consistency this season in a parity-rich CCHA. The series will be the first since March 5-6 of 2011, when Alaska swept MSU out of the CCHA Tournament in two games.
The series will be the last one at home during the regular season for the Spartans, as they finish up the schedule on the road against No. 13 Notre Dame. And even though Alaska’s sitting in 10th place in the CCHA, head coach Tom Anastos said it will be critical not to overlook the Nanooks in his team’s final home series.
“The reality is Alaska is a good team, even though they’re sitting in (10th place),” Anastos said. “They’ve had several big wins against good teams this season, and they’ve lost several close games. So emotionally, it is hard coming off a series like we had, and really it’s back-to-back series going to Ohio State and sweeping that series and having a chance to sweep against Michigan.”
Senior forward Brett Perlini has a bone to pick with the Nanooks this weekend at home. Having been eliminated in the CCHA Tournament last season by Alaska and fighting for position in the same tournament this season, Perlini expects nothing but the best from the Spartans this weekend.
“Going there twice in three weeks and being eliminated by them, obviously we’re looking for some payback this week,” Perlini said. “We’re going to be at our best. This is the time we want to heat up and start playing well into the playoffs. This is the time we gotta do it.”
The series and the remainder of the games on the schedule might be decided on the merit of special teams, Anastos said.
The Spartans currently rank second in the country in penalty killing with 110-of-123 killed this season (89.4 percent), while Alaska is dead-last in the conference in the category (80.7 percent).
To secure an NCAA Tournament berth, Anastos said the Spartans will need to continue its strong effort in the category and also take advantage of opportunities on the power play.
“They’re critical when you consider how many games are one-goal games,” Anastos said. “They’re critical in our league in particular because the league is so defensive-oriented when you look at the goals against averages. Being able to defend is obviously real important, but taking advantage of power play opportunities is really important.”
For the seniors, this weekend holds increased importance, being their last regular season at Munn Ice Arena. But with a chance to extend the season and secure home-ice advantage in the CCHA Tournament leaves few teary sentiments for the team’s seniors.
Senior defenseman Brock Shelgren said the team is fighting for its playoff lives in the conference standings, and his team will be ready for the Nanooks.
“With the CCHA standings being so tight, you can’t really overlook any team,” Shelgren said. “All these points mean so much, especially coming down the stretch with only four games remaining. Three points separates us from being in second or third place, so you’ve got to approach every game the same and be prepared the best you can.”