Coming off a 1-0-1 weekend with Wisconsin, Michigan State hockey (10-13-5, 6-8-4 in Big Ten) enters the long-anticipated final series against Michigan (10-11-6, 6-7-4 in Big Ten), with whom they are tied in Big Ten standings.
MSU will play at Yost Ice Arena at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 8, and will travel to Little Caesars Arena at 7 p.m. Feb. 9.
As the rivals sit tied for fourth place with 24 points each, the back-to-back battles could ultimately determine which of the two schools hosts a Big Ten tournament game.
The Spartans remain undefeated through three games against the Wolverines this season. They won the first matchup, tied and recorded a shootout win in Ann Arbor in the second, and tied again at the Great Lakes invitational.
“If we have to channel back and find some emotion for these games this weekend, then we’re in trouble. I don’t think that’ll be an issue with our locker room,” MSU coach Danton Cole said Feb. 4. “Really, every weekend has been like this for a while. We keep saying (this with) every weekend we have with the Big Ten right now, the playoffs started about four or five weeks ago. That’s the emotion that the guys have.”
The emotion Cole mentioned was prevalent in the last matchup against the Wolverines as a brawl broke out after U-M goaltender Hayden Lavigne facewashed sophomore forward Tommy Apap, who anticipates a similar level of emotion this weekend.
Since then, the Spartans have remained physical in their weekly match-ups.
“There’s a lot of heat, there’s a lot of passion in these games,” Apap said. “I’m not really supposed to care about these games more than others, but it’s hard not to when you’re playing Michigan. It’s just that rivalry, it’s just a little extra heated.
“I think we were just going to the net, trying to get a rebound and the goalie covered it and they didn’t like that we were that close to the goalie. All I know is I got tackled, Brody (Stevens) comes in, (Brennan Sanford) comes in and it was just a bit of a scrum there. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot more of that this weekend.”
Aside from gaining ground in the conference standings, this series versus U-M holds implications like no other matchup.
The rivalry’s importance is something senior forward Brennan Sanford, an East Lansing native, has realized since his freshman season.
“Beating Michigan is right up there with winning a championship or winning the (Great Lakes Invitational),” Sanford said. “If you don’t do those things, you have to at least beat Michigan during the year. So it’s just that much bigger of a game for us going into the series … We’re tied for fourth in the Big Ten. Only six games left, so I bet both teams are going to play (desperately).”
After engaging in his fair share of physicality in the shootout loss to Wisconsin, redshirt junior defenseman and enforcer Jerad Rosburg reflected on the physicality of the matchup, pointing to the nature of the rivalry as a whole.
“I think it goes back from before I was even born,” Rosburg said. “I’m sure it’s always been a rivalry and I’m sure 50 years from now it’ll be the same way. I think in all sports when there’s rivalries, the physicality level steps up. I’m definitely looking forward to that and getting to play them again. It’ll be a good opportunity for a team and we’re looking forward to it.”
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