Saturday, December 4, 2021

Icers maintain top ranking, head to Bowling Green

December 1, 2000

After successfully completing a stretch of seven games against teams with a 50-29-10 combined record, MSU will try to avoid being bitten by the underdog this weekend.

The top-ranked Spartans (10-1-2 overall, 7-1-1 CCHA) are taking their No. 1 ranking into December and into northern Ohio to face the struggling Bowling Green Falcons (2-7-3, 2-5-3) at BGSU Ice Arena tonight and Saturday.

The Spartans have not lost in their last 10 games (9-0-1), dating back to a 2-1 loss to Nebraska-Omaha on Oct. 20.

The team breezed through an arduous November schedule, which included six games against ranked teams, with a 6-0-1 record.

“This is a very unselfish team,” freshman center Jeremy Jackson said. “We go out for those two points, not for goals or assists or draft picks. That’s the mentality that has gotten us where we are.”

Where they are is back on top of the two national rankings after a one-week slip in the USA Today poll.

MSU reclaimed the top spot after beating Minnesota 3-2 in the College Hockey Showcase last Friday. The Gophers were No. 1 in the USA Today poll and were No. 2 behind the Spartans in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll heading into the game.

“The confidence level is there, but at the same time, so is the work ethic,” said sophomore defenseman Brad Fast, the reigning CCHA Defensive Player of the Week. “Guys are going to keep doing what we did to get here.”

Fast earned his league honor for a five point effort last week that included his first goal of the season against Lake Superior State and three assists against Wisconsin.

Sophomore goaltender Ryan Miller has already won the award twice this year.

“Our team puts players in position to receive (the honor),” Fast said.

Heading down to Bowling Green, the Spartans have not played in a CCHA road series since sweeping Notre Dame at the Joyce Center on Oct. 26-27. Overall, MSU is 6-0 on the road this season.

“It’s a completely different atmosphere on the road with the crowd and the adrenaline running through the other team,” Jackson said. “Somebody that’s more determined to win that game than you are will knock you off, whether they’re the worst team in the league or a contender.”

Jackson brings a six-game points streak into tonight’s contest. He missed practice Wednesday with a strained groin muscle, but said he’ll be ready to play this weekend.

MSU has had the Falcons’ number in recent years, posting an 8-1-2 record in the last 11 games of the series. The team hasn’t lost at Bowling Green in five years, but MSU head coach Ron Mason still sounds leery.

“They’re giant killers,” Mason said. “I’ve seen them do it to other teams and they always give us hard-fought games. At home, they’re an unbelievable hockey team. It gets rocking and rolling down there.”

Bowling Green hasn’t been able to win close games so far this season, with four of its losses determined by one goal.

“They’ve lost a lot of one-goal games and we’ve won a lot of one-goal games,” Mason said. “I think it’s two pretty equal teams, but we’ve won the close games and they haven’t. I’m concerned that we’re going to see them at their best.”

After starting their season with four straight losses, the Falcons beat Alaska-Fairbanks at home Oct. 27 for their first win. They then won the opener of a series against Ohio State in Columbus on Nov. 18, but have lost two of their last three.

Fast said the team wants to jump on Bowling Green early tonight and then let the stifling Spartan defense suffocate the Falcons.

“They’re going to come out hard and we don’t want to give them chances to get confidence in their systems,” Fast said. “We’re not going to get outworked by anyone.”

Adding to this weekend’s importance, MSU could extend its lead in the CCHA if the team earns four points against the Falcons.

The league’s two second-place teams, Michigan and Northern Michigan, will square off in a two-game series in Marquette tonight and Saturday. If MSU sweeps Bowling Green and U-M and Northern split, the Spartans would further distance themselves from their pursuers.

The Spartans have 15 points in the league while No. 4 U-M and Northern have 13 each.

Both games start at 7:05 p.m.

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