With three games in six days this week, the MSU hockey team is making sure to not get ahead of itself.
The top-ranked Spartans (7-1-2 overall, 6-1-1 in the CCHA) insist they are not looking past their game against Lake Superior State tonight at Munn Ice Arena.
The Lakers are struggling (6-7, 3-5) and MSU has a high-profile holiday series against two premier teams looming later this week, but head coach Ron Mason doesnt expect to extend the Spartans seven-game unbeaten streak without a challenge.
We have to be sure not to look ahead because we have to play Lake State and thats going to be a hard-fought hockey game, Mason said. Well see them at their best. Theyve had a ton of injuries, but theyre finally starting to get healthy.
Mason is very familiar with the school from Sault Ste. Marie. He became the first hockey coach in the programs history in 1966 and guided it to five National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) tournament berths.
He was inducted to the Lake Superior Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.
Thats a really good hockey program and I still have a lot of friends up there, Mason said. Ill always have a soft spot in my heart for them, but not (tonight).
The game against the Lakers marks the end of the Spartans season-longest four-game homestand, with MSU standing at 2-0-1 after a tie with Western Michigan.
Position play hurt us in the Western Michigan game, which is unlike Michigan State, sophomore center Troy Ferguson said. We had a couple of guys out of position and that led to a couple of goals. We worked on it in practice and I think weve got it worked out.
Tonight will also be the first of four season meetings between the two programs that are part of the CCHA super cluster. The system pits last years top four league finishers (MSU, Lake Superior, Northern Michigan and Michigan) against each other four times this season.
(The super cluster) allows you to develop more of a rivalry, said senior left winger Sean Patchell. You develop more animosity and more of a history between the teams. Well have a good battle with Lake State throughout the season.
The squads split a two-game series last season, with MSU winning 3-0 at Munn and the Lakers triumphing 3-1 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
Lake Superior is led by first team All-CCHA and second team All-America goaltender Jayme Platt. Platt has fallen off a bit this season, posting a 5-7 record, a 3.22 goals against average and an .886 saves percentage.
(Lake Superior) made a resurgence last year and it was directly related to Jayme Platt in goal, Mason said. By far, he was the best goalie in the league last year. He hasnt been as consistent as hed like, but hes capable of winning a game all by himself.
Ferguson said MSU expects Platt and the Lakers to regain the form they had last season.
Theyre going to turn it around soon, Ferguson said. The bounces arent going their way right now, but theyre a hardworking, fast-skating team.
Lake Superior is coming off a split in the battle for Upper Peninsula bragging rights with NMU last weekend. The Wildcats took the series opener 4-3 in Marquette, but the Lakers regrouped to win the second match 2-1 in Sault Ste. Marie.
Were treating them like theyre on a winning streak, Patchell said. They pride themselves on their work ethic. Lake State is always a tough team, but we just have to concentrate on what we do best.
The Spartans ride senior right winger Rustyn Dolynys seven-game points streak into tonights contest. The team captain has notched two goals and seven assists during the stretch.
MSU will collide with No. 3 Minnesota and No. 12 Wisconsin of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in the College Hockey Showcase this weekend.
A date with the Golden Gophers gets the showcase rolling on Friday and then MSU will travel to play the Badgers in Madison, Wisc. on Sunday.
Tonights game starts at 7:05.