It’s rivalry week. While the Michigan State football team travels to Ann Arbor to take on the University of Michigan Saturday afternoon, the hockey team will play the Wolverines twice over the span of three days in a home-and-home series. Play will begin on the road at Yost Ice arena in Ann Arbor, Thursday at 6:30 p.m, then return to East Lansing for a Saturday night puck drop at 7:00 p.m.
The Spartans (3-5) are coming off a solid weekend, one that included splitting a pair of games on the road against No. 8 Penn State. Head Coach Danton Cole has been pleased with practice so far this week, noting that the players proved something to themselves against the Nittany Lions and that a new bar has been set.
“What I’m pleased with is that our identity has been here,” Cole said. “(This is a) white-collar university with blue-collar people. Getting that blue-collar work ethic and being steady with it for 60 minutes, that’s what I’ve been happy (with). That’s how we have to play and I think the guys are figuring that out.”
The annual clash between MSU and U-M is one of the best rivalries college hockey has to offer, and Thursday night will mark the 325th time the two have met. Michigan leads the all time series with a 165-135-24 record against the green and white. The Spartans went 1-2-2-1 against the Wolverines last season.
“Obviously this weekend has a different pace to it in terms of the rivalry game ... the emotions will be up, energy won’t be a problem,” Cole said. “Just hope we can execute.”
It’s been a bit of an underwhelming start to the season for the maize and blue. With a 3-5-2 record, they have yet to win a conference game in four attempts, failing to get the best of Ohio State and Minnesota. The team has also struggled to generate on offense, ranking 48th in the country with an average of 2.0 goals per game. Goaltender Strauss Mann gives them a chance in net every night, as he has started every game so far and is tied for second in the Big Ten with a 1.89 goals against average and a .935 save percentage.
The Spartans will look to draw penalties this weekend so that they can utilize their fourth ranked power play, which is scoring at a 31% clip (9-29). John Lethemon had a 48-save shutout last weekend against Penn State, and carries a 3-2 record into this weekend along with a .926 save percentage and a 2.62 goals against average.
With the heated rivalry in the back of everyone’s minds, Cole wants the team to stay focused and treat the weekend just like any other.
“Your level of preparation shouldn’t depend on the team you’re playing,” Cole said. “I think it should be the same day in and day out. You want to be a pro, that’s how you have to go about it. All that being said, there is something different about this week. It’s a big rivalry and it has been in hockey for a long time.”
Khodorenko awarded Big Ten First Star of the Week
Senior forward Patrick Khodorenko was named the Big Ten First Star of the Week for the second time in his career on Tuesday after he put up four points (3g, 1a) last weekend against Penn State. He currently leads the team in goals (4), assists (6), and total points (10) while also in the midst of a five game point streak, tying a career best. Just two points shy of 100 on his career as a Spartan, the team will lean on Khodorenko to provide a spark on offense in a critical series against their in-state rival this weekend.