Following a week off, the No. 19 Michigan State hockey team (13-12-1) will hit the road this weekend to take on Minnesota (12-10-4) in a two-game set at Mariucci Arena. Game one will start at 8 p.m. Friday night, followed by game two at 6 p.m. Saturday night.
The Spartans last saw the Golden Gophers on Jan. 10-11 at Munn Ice Arena, splitting a pair of games. Since then, Minnesota has been on an absolute tear, winning seven of their last eight games and currently riding a five-game unbeaten streak. Since playing MSU about a month ago, the Gophers have swept No. 13 Ohio State at home and most recently swept Wisconsin on the road.
“They’ve been real consistent,” coach Danton Cole said regarding Minnesota, according to a statement from the university athletics website. “(Minnesota coach Bob Motzko) is a great coach there and he’s got them playing the right way, playing hard on both sides of the puck. When you have good players and guys are buying in and playing the right way, it’s tough to play against.”
The Big Ten standings are as close as they’ve been all season, with five of the seven teams all within a point of each other. Ohio State and Penn State are tied at the top with 29 points, while Michigan State, Minnesota and Notre Dame all have 28. The Spartans have dropped a couple spots in the PairWise rankings, as they currently are ranked 20th.
Minnesota is led by a trio of explosive forwards. Junior Brannon McManus and freshman Ben Meyers have 20 points apiece to lead their team, and junior Scott Reedy is first on the team with 11 goals. However, they will be hard-pressed to find the back of the net this weekend, as they will be facing a Spartan team that is allowing just 2.27 goals against per game, which ranks 11th in the country and second in the Big Ten.
The penalty kill continues to remain an area in which the green and white have excelled in late into the season. They have successfully killed off their opponent’s last ten power plays and 17 of the last 18 overall. Their .835 penalty kill percentage is good for 20th in the nation.
It was announced recently that MSU will have two players in consideration for the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the best player in college hockey. Seniors John Lethemon and Patrick Khodorenko have had phenomenal seasons, and will wait until March 19 to see if they are one of the ten finalists for the award.
Khodorenko is tied for third in the Big Ten with 27 points this season, while his 14 goals places him second in the conference. He just recently scored his 50th career goal for Michigan State in a win over Penn State on Jan. 24. Lethemon has had a career year, leading all of college hockey with a .943 save percentage. In conference play, he ranks first in the Big Ten with a 1.62 GA, .953 save percentage, and four shutouts.
Needless to say, there are crucial points on the line this weekend and the Big Ten Standings could look a lot different come Sunday.
“I can’t tell you we’re going to win every game the rest of the year,” Cole said, according to a statement from the university athletics website. “I can tell you that these guys are going to be battling. If they’re down, they’re going to keep coming back. If they’re up, they’re going to keep blocking shots and finishing checks and they’re going to play the right way. This is where they’ve wanted to be and it’s a good step for our program and we should enjoy it and have fun with it.”
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