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'It’s an emotional weekend:' An inside look at the Michigan State hockey rivalry with Michigan

December 8, 2022
<p>Sophomore center Kristoff Papp (13) faces off against a University of Michigan player. MSU Hockey fell to the University of Michigan, 4-1, in the first game of the Big Ten Men&#x27;s Hockey Tournament at the Yost Ice Arena on March 04, 2022.</p>

Sophomore center Kristoff Papp (13) faces off against a University of Michigan player. MSU Hockey fell to the University of Michigan, 4-1, in the first game of the Big Ten Men's Hockey Tournament at the Yost Ice Arena on March 04, 2022.

Photo by Sheldon Krause | The State News

One of the biggest and oldest rivalries in college hockey will play its 339th and 340th games this weekend: No. 12 Michigan State (11-6-1, 5-4-1 Big Ten) and No. 6 Michigan (11-6-1, 3-5 Big Ten) face off in a home-and-home series on Friday in East Lansing and Saturday in Ann Arbor.

The Wolverines lead the series all-time 176-138-24 with matchups dating back to 1922. 

With both teams’ head coaches in their first season, the rivalry is starting a new era. 

MSU played the Wolverines eight times while first-year Head Coach Adam Nightingale was on the roster from 2003-05, earning a 2-3-3 record. Nightingale spent his junior and senior seasons as an alternate captain along with his younger brother, Jared. 

“The state of Michigan is a big hockey state,” Nightingale said. “You grow up at a young age, you’re either a Spartan or a Wolverine. We got a lot of Michigandgers on our team, so we’re excited about playing in it.”

Also in his first year is Michigan Head Coach Brandon Naurato, replacing Mel Pearson. Naurato played for the Wolverines from 2006-09 and has led the team to 11 wins so far this season. Naurato joined the staff last season and helped coach his alma mater to the 2022 Frozen Four, before becoming the interim head coach in August. 

Graduate defenseman Christian Krygier returned to the lineup last Friday after a nine-game absence for MSU’s series with Minnesota. In his fifth season with the Spartans, Krygier knows all too well what the rivalry with the Wolverines means to the program. His all-time performance record against Michigan includes three assists. 

The Wolverines have won the last six meetings between the two schools. Krygier is one of the only players left on MSU’s roster who witnessed the last Spartan defeat of the Wolverines, a 3-2 victory on Jan. 9, 2021 in East Lansing. 

“This is two games in our league play, we have to look at it like every other game,” Krygier said. “The times we’ve had success we're just focusing on us and shutting the noise out, so that when we are ready to play we know what we have to do and kinda get those areas fixed up from last weekend.”

Krygier said Nightingale addressed the players on the significance of the week, saying the series between the rivals is “personal.”

“Whether you’re a fan or just someone that isn't even part of either side you’re looking at it and you know that there’s two sides, definitely two complete polar opposites,” Krygier said. “Overall, it’s an emotional weekend. I just think taking the emotions out of it and trying to just stick to a regular weekend of hockey and hopefully getting some good results.”

Even though this weekend’s series marks the first time freshman defenseman Matt Basgall, an Illinois native, will play in the rivalry, he said he already understands what’s at stake. 

“It doesn’t really matter how the year is going for either team, all the fans are gonna show up and it’s a school versus school type of thing, it’s not team versus team,” Basgall said. “So it’s a lot bigger than just the guys in the room. We’re playing for the entire school and everyone that’s gone here, everyone who’s going here, everyone who’s gonna go here. … It’s a bigger stage, we definitely want to take care of business this weekend.”

Freshman forward Tiernan Shoudy will also get his first on-ice taste of the rivalry this weekend. Shoudy, who has notched seven points so far this season, is originally from St. Clair, Mich. and has an older brother, Trevor, who plays ACHA hockey at Michigan. 

“I have kind of a little bit of a rivalry too,” Shoudy said. “(My brother) likes to text me when Michigan does well, and then when we’re doing well I’ll always text him. … Growing up around here, I know we hate those guys, those guys hate us. It’s gonna be interesting to see what it’s like when you’re in the game, not somebody outside watching.”

Puck drop is set for 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Both games will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

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