The Michigan State hockey team (14-13-1) fell out of the rankings after splitting a pair of games with Minnesota on the road last weekend. Now the team shifts their focus to in-state rival Michigan (13-12-3), who the Spartans swept back in mid-November.
It will be an unconventional series this weekend, with only one of the games coming on MSU’s home ice. The two teams will play at 6 p.m. on Friday night at Munn Ice Arena, and will finish the series at 7 p.m. next Monday night at Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit as a part of the Duel in the D.
Each of the next three weekends will have major implications on the Big Ten Standings, as six of the seven teams are all within six points of each other. Penn State sits alone at the top with 33 points, followed by a trio of teams with 31 points: MSU, Minnesota and Ohio State. Notre Dame and Michigan trail behind with 28 and 27 points, respectively.
While it hasn’t been a dominant year for the Wolverines, they have been playing better as of late, posting a record of 6-2-1 since the beginning of January. They’re coming off a sweep of Wisconsin at home last weekend and a split with No. 13 Ohio State the weekend prior. During December’s Great Lakes Invitational at Little Caesars Arena in December, the Wolverines advanced to the championship game with a win over Ferris State, but ultimately fell to Michigan Tech 4-2.
Senior forward Jake Slaker, who ranks first on the team with 21 points (10g, 11a), has led the Wolverines. Their goaltender, sophomore Strauss Mann, has posted a .932 save percentage and 2.07 GAA, both ranking right behind MSU goaltender John Lethemon. The two netminders will be busy this weekend, as the Spartans average 28.75 shots per game and the Wolverines average 34.11, good for fourth in the nation.
“Both teams (have) similarities,” coach Danton Cole said, according to a statement from the university’s athletics website. “They’re both getting very good goaltending ... everybody that gets anything done in hockey, you have to have that going. Defensively, (Michigan) has done a really nice job ... they’ve done a really nice job in terms of shutting other teams down. That’s how you win games. That gives you a chance every night.”
Friday night’s game will be televised on BTN, while Monday night’s game can be seen on Fox Sports Detroit.