MSU hockey (4-15-1, 0-6-0 Big Ten) will play in-state rival University of Michigan (8-11-1, 1-5-0 Big Ten) this weekend in a home-and-home series beginning Friday at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor.
The rivalry is the most played in college hockey. Friday’s matchup will conclude a five-game road trip for the Spartans, which is the longest conference road stretch for a Big Ten team this season.
This weekend will mark the 311th and 312th meeting for the programs. MSU trails U-M 131-160-19 in the all-time series.
“Anytime you play your rival, that’s obviously really important,” MSU head coach Tom Anastos said during Tuesday’s weekly press conference. “Both teams aren’t where they want to be, which, in some respects, that doesn’t matter when you play each other because all that matters is playing each other.
“And yet, at the same time — I won’t speak for their team — but our team, we’re still trying to find an identity that we can sustain for 65 minutes on a consistent basis every time we play. And that will remain our focus until we get there.”
Two of the last three meetings between the teams have gone into overtime with the most recent occurring during the Great Lakes Invitational on Dec. 30, 2016 in which MSU lost 5-4 to the Wolverines.
Sophomore forward Mason Appleton continues to be the Spartans’ go-to threat this season. The Green Bay, Wis. native added to his team-leading point total with a goal and an assist in last weekend’s sweep to Penn State. He currently leads the team in points with 19, goals with nine, and his 10 assists are tied with freshman forward Taro Hirose for the most on the team.
Seven of Appleton’s goals have come on the power play, which is tied for sixth most in the NCAA, and the most by a Spartan since Torey Krug also had seven in the 2011-12 season.
The Wolverines are entering Friday’s matchup coming off a pair of losses at No. 7 Minnesota, and sit at a Big Ten record of 1-5.
U-M is led in goals by junior forward Tony Calderone, who has 10 on the year, and freshmen forwards Will Lockwood and Jake Slaker lead the team in points with 13.
The Wolverines have played three different goaltenders this season. Freshman Hayden Lavigne posts the best record in net as he enters this weekend’s series winning four of his eight games in goal. He currently holds a .932 save percentage.
Freshman Jack LaFontaine with a 1-4-1 record and .919 save percentage and senior Zach Nagelvoort, 3-3 record and .916 save percentage, are the other netminders who have had playing time for the Wolverines this season.
Senior forward Joe Cox stressed that winning on the road against U-M is a strenuous effort.
“It takes just about everything you have,” Cox said. “They’re (a) pretty hostile environment, and they feed a lot off of that environment, so it really takes everything. It takes hard work. It takes blocking shots. It takes executing on your plays. You can’t go in there and have an off night and expect to win.”
Cox said from being a senior he has learned to manage the pressure and nerves of the U-M rivalry more effectively.
“When I was a freshman, I came into Michigan State (and the) Michigan rivalries, it was kind of just a little bit overwhelming,” Cox said. “You might grip your stick a little tighter, but I think now you still get that feeling, but now you know how to kind of manage it.”
The Spartans will face the Wolverines Friday at the Yost Ice Arena at 6:30 p.m. before coming back home for Saturday’s 7 p.m. matchup to wrap up the series. Both games can be viewed on the Big Ten Network.
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