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MSU hockey looks to final meeting against U-M at The Joe

February 8, 2017
The Spartans lean over to watch a play unfold during the third period of the 52nd Annual Great Lakes Invitational third-place game against the University of Michigan on Dec. 30, 2016 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The Spartans were defeated by the Wolverines in overtime, 5-4.
The Spartans lean over to watch a play unfold during the third period of the 52nd Annual Great Lakes Invitational third-place game against the University of Michigan on Dec. 30, 2016 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The Spartans were defeated by the Wolverines in overtime, 5-4. —
Photo by Nic Antaya | and Nic Antaya The State News

When MSU hockey (5-17-2, 1-8-1 Big Ten) takes on rival University of Michigan (9-13-2, 2-7-1-1 Big Ten) on Friday for the Duel in the D, there will predictably be a different feeling within the atmosphere amongst the players, coaches and fans at the Joe Louis Arena. 

After 55 meetings between the two teams at "The Joe", most likely Friday’s matchup will mark the last time the teams will meet at the historic arena as it is set to be in its final year. 

“It’s going to be pretty remarkable,” fifth-year senior defenseman Rhett Holland said. “It’s definitely going to be special for me. Last series against Michigan, last one at the Joe. The Joe’s gone. This is the last year, so it’s going to be pretty remarkable, pretty special feeling. I’m just going to really have to take everything in and not let it pass by.” 

In March, Joe Louis Arena is slated to host the Big Ten Tournament, but a matchup between MSU and U-M isn't certain.

“It’s definitely a cool experience being able to play at a rink like that — the history that it has, especially being a Blackhawks fan,” freshman forward Sam Saliba said. “It’s pretty cool for me. And obviously, for sure the last time we’re going to play Michigan there — Duel in the D on the line — I think the stakes are definitely higher.”

The arena that once was home to the likes of Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and Pavel Datsyuk is now going to pave the way for many more memories to be created at the new arena.

For Holland, he said the opportunity to skate in the same arena as those players who have left their mark in Joe Louis Arena and Detroit Red Wing history is a remarkable experience.

“The guys that have gone through that arena — Gordie Howe, Lidstrom — all those guys … It’s crazy to think that you’re on the same ice surface as some of those guys,” Holland said. “The feeling is hard to explain, so it’s going to be really special this weekend to play there for the last time.”

Senior forward and captain Joe Cox said that playing at the Joe Louis Arena against U-M this weekend will bring a sense of nostalgia.

“Yeah, I would say it would just because I kind of grew up here, and I’ve kind of seen the rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State,” Cox said. “And now that I’ve been a part of it for four years now, I mean, it hasn’t hit me yet, but I’m sure by the end of the game, I’ll kind of just be like ‘well, it was definitely a fun ride I’ll never forget.’ There are plenty of moments from playing Michigan now I’ll keep for the rest of my life.”

Head coach Tom Anastos said that it is “business as usual” entering this game despite the circumstances, but added that the stadium's time is up, and he is looking forward to the completion of the new arena.

“That building, in my time in college hockey in particular, has been the home of a lot of great memories,” Anastos said. “I remember sitting in Tiger Stadium, and I was disappointed Tiger Stadium was going away.

“And yet when I sat in it, I realized with all the new amenities and so on, and when I got into Comerica Park, it was like yeah it’s time. Well, Joe Louis, it’s time. And so, lot of fond memories there for sure, but it’d be real nice to end on a high. And we’ll look forward beyond this to seeing the new building.”

The Spartans will face the Wolverines Friday at the Joe Louis Arena at 7:30 p.m. to begin the first of a two-game series. Friday’s game can be viewed on Fox Sports Detroit and can be streamed online on BTN2GO. 

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