With the Michigan State football team struggling mightily through four games, it may be time for another sport to start. The always reliable men’s basketball team does not start for a couple weeks, but luckily for Spartan fans the hockey season starts this week. In fact, the first game is this Thursday.
Welcome to the MSU ice hockey 2020-21 season preview.
Looking at the schedule
The Big Ten season started last Friday night in South Bend, Indiana. It resulted in a 2-0 win for the Wisconsin Badgers against the hosting Notre Dame Fighting Irish. MSU's first foe, Arizona State, has already begun their season as well, dropping two straight against the Michigan Wolverines this past weekend.
The Spartans will begin their journey of the 2020 season at 6 p.m. on Thursday and Friday night at home against Arizona State. The first game will be televised on Big Ten Network.
They will then travel to take on Ohio State for two games, return home for four games vs. Minnesota and Wisconsin, and finish out 2020 with two games at Notre Dame. The second half of the 24 game schedule has yet to be announced.
Six of MSU’s first 10 games will be in the newly renovated Munn Ice Arena. One would think that should only mean good things for being thrown straight into conference play. There will be no fans in attendance; however, fans can purchase cut outs similar to those at Spartan Stadium.
On paper, the schedule does not look too easy for the Spartans. Every team they face had at least a .500 record in 2019 except for Wisconsin. Wisconsin though is expected nationally to be much improved in 2020; they received 59 votes in the latest USCHO.com poll.
Michigan State’s two games vs. Wisconsin will be played Dec. 8 and Dec. 9. This is the end of a stretch of six games being played in 12 days for MSU, a part of the schedule that Head Coach Danton Cole said stood out to him and would be “an interesting challenge.”
This year's Spartan team is a much younger one equipped with nine freshmen compared to last year's three.
The Spartans lost their top two goal scorers in Patrick Khodorenko and Sam Saliba to graduation as well as starting goaltender John Lethemon.
Expect the team to turn to seniors such as forwards Mitchell Lewandowksi and Tommy Apap and defensemen Dennis Cesana to fill in the combined 26 goals left by Khodorenko and Saliba in 2019. Additionally, the three sophomores Josh Nodler, Jagger Joshua, and Nicolas Müller are all expected to take on bigger roles this year and could do so specifically in the scoring department.
MSU also received a graduate transfer in forward Charlie Combs. The St. Louis native scored 36 goals in three seasons at Bemidji State University and should make an immediate impact on the team.
Junior Drew DeRidder will be in between the pipes to start the year. DeRidder made an immediate impact as a freshman goalie earning 17 starts in a platoon role with Lethemon. Last year, DeRidder took a backseat to Lethemon not necessarily because he struggled but because of Lethemon's significant improvement. He only started in four games last season but has posted career numbers of 3.16 GAA and .905 save percentage.
Tommy Miller and Apap will serve as captains while Cesana and Lewandowksi will serve as assistant captains.
The Spartans are bringing in lots of new faces including nine freshmen and one transfer. With no non-conference games to begin the year, I would not be surprised if the first game or two are a little sloppy.
Michigan State’s first opponent, Arizona State, will already have two games under their belt for the season by the time the two teams meet on Thursday, perhaps giving them a slight advantage.
Record prediction through Dec. 20: 4-6-0
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