Wednesday, September 23, 2020

PREVIEW: MSU hockey aims to finish season strong as No. 12 Ohio State comes to town

February 21, 2020
<p>Spartan hockey players celebrate a goal from sophomore defenseman Dennis Cesena.</p>

Spartan hockey players celebrate a goal from sophomore defenseman Dennis Cesena.

Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

After a disappointing weekend that included getting swept by Michigan and scoring just two goals in two games, the Michigan State hockey team (14-15-1) welcomes No. 12 Ohio State (16-10-4) this weekend for what will be the final regular season games at Munn Ice Arena this season.

The two-game losing streak has kept the Spartans at 31 points in the Big Ten standings, five points behind co-leaders Penn State and Minnesota and tied for fourth with the Buckeyes. The green and white sit at No. 22 in the PairWise rankings and given that they only have four games left in the regular season, receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament might be out of the picture at this point.

MSU will need to focus on finishing out their remaining games on a high note, followed by putting on a strong showing in the Big Ten tournament to give themselves a chance for a late push into the dance. The Big Ten tournament is slated to start March 6, with the higher-seeded teams hosting games. 

Junior forward Tommy Apap still has the bar set high and won’t be content with just earning home-ice advantage come tournament time.

“We’re not just looking to stop at home ice in the playoffs,” Apap said, following the loss to Michigan on Monday. “We want to keep going, we want to be in that tournament and raise a banner for sure at the end of the season. We don’t really have a limit to our goals, but right now the goal is to get home ice ... we got four games left and we’re going to do one at a time, looking to win each one.”

Ohio State comes to East Lansing on a bit of a cold streak. The team was off last weekend, but are just 1-3-1 in their previous five games, getting swept by Minnesota and splitting series with Michigan and Penn State. The Spartans couldn’t come back from Columbus with a win earlier in the season, getting swept on the road. Senior forward Tanner Laczynski has been a pivotal playmaker for the Buckeye offense this season, leading the team in total points (27) and assists (20). As for the scoring, sophomore Gustaf Westlund is tops on the team with 12 goals.

Ohio State’s power play has been a contributing factor in their success up to this point, and they will meet a Spartan team that has been equally as good on the penalty kill this weekend. The Buckeyes boast a .254 power play percentage, good for ninth in the country. MSU struggled when shorthanded last weekend against the Wolverines, but their penalty kill percentage still places them 20th in the country at .826.

It’s been the year of the goaltender in the Big Ten, and another quality one will come to town this weekend. Junior Tommy Nappier currently ranks third in the conference with a .927 save percentage and 2.13 GAA. His counterpart, Spartan senior John Lethemon, will look to rebound after allowing nine goals in two games against Michigan last weekend.

Game one will get underway at 7 p.m. Friday night, with game two set for Saturday at the same time. The games will not be televised, but can be streamed on BTN plus and heard on the Spartan Sports Network or WJIM 1240-AM.

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