Michigan State (3-2-1) will kick off Big Ten play this weekend in Columbus, facing off against Ohio State (3-1).
Last weekend, MSU embarked on its first road trip of the season, heading out East for a two-game series against UMass Lowell. The Spartans returned to East Lansing with a 2-2 tie and a 4-0 loss.
“We learned some things about being on the road," Michigan State Head Coach Danton Cole said of the road series. “We got a couple good, hard games and we’re going to see a lot of those in the Big Ten.”
The team was without its point leader and fifth-year senior forward Mitchell Lewandowski Saturday night after he suffered an undisclosed injury Friday. He is still questionable to return this weekend.
After a few weekends of non-conference series, Michigan State starts conference play with an evenly matched opponent in the form of the Buckeyes. Last season, Ohio State notched just one more conference win than Michigan State, placing just above them in the final standings. The teams split their two series last year, finishing with a 2-2 head-to-head record.
“We’ve always had good battles with them,” captain and senior defenseman Dennis Cesana said. “They’ve always had good goaltending and a pretty deep lineup.”
The Buckeyes are just as strong between the pipes this year. Freshman goaltender Jakub Dobeš’s .986 save percentage is the best in the Big Ten and the second best in the nation.
Ohio States lineup is deep and young this season. Four OSU players have scored their first collegiate goals this season in just four games. Of those four, freshman defenseman Mason Lohrei has been the biggest breakout star for the team.
He leads in the team with three assists and has the second most points on the roster. Lohrei was excellent in the USHL last year, receiving defenseman of the year after scoring 59 points in just 48 games. He is already proving to be a dangerous addition to an already deep blue line for the Buckeyes.
Offensively, the team is led by junior forward Tate Singleton, who is averaging more than a point per game in Ohio State’s first four — three goals and two assists. Sophomore and senior forwards Travis Treloar and Quinn Preston are right behind him, both with three points each thus far.
The weekend series is sure to be a tossup, as the two teams play a strikingly similar style of hockey. Both have a stellar defense, each ranked in the top ten in goals allowed per game. Ohio State is fourth in the NCAA with 1.50 goals allowed per game and Michigan State is tied for tenth with 2.0. The Spartans and Buckeyes also have stellar goaltending, with the aforementioned Dobeš’s in net for OSU and the Drew DeRidder/Pierce Charleson tandem backing up MSU.
Special teams could be the key to victory in a tightly contested series. Ohio State and Michigan State are neck and neck on the penalty kill, ranked 12th and 13th in the nation respectively. On the power play, Michigan State holds a .238 success rate while Ohio State rests at .167.
“If you look at our first six games, whoever has won the special teams battle has won the game,” Cole said.
A successful series against the Buckeyes will be key entering an extremely competitive Big Ten season. Three of the seven teams in the Big Ten are in the USCHO top 20, headlined by the No.2 Michigan Wolverines. Every team in the conference received top 20 votes, except for Michigan State, so it is not going to get easier from here.
“Big Ten games are like playoff games every single night,” Cole said.
The series begins Friday night, where the puck is set to drop at 6 p.m. in Columbus. The game will be streamed via BTN+.
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