This weekend, the 5th-ranked Michigan hockey team (18-9-1, 10-8 Big Ten) is set to face the 15th-ranked Michigan State Spartans (15-13-2, 9-9-2 Big Ten) in a two-game weekend series. Game one will be held at Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing, MI, and game two will be the annual ‘Dual in the D’ matchup held at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, MI.
Despite Michigan’s recent success against the Spartans — going 6-0 against MSU a season ago — the two are tied up so far this time around. Earlier this season, Michigan and Michigan State split their first series — the Spartans took game one at Munn, 2-1, and the Wolverines took game two at Yost, 2-1. It’s a series that has felt as even as it gets thus far, and this weekend, scores will be settled as we enter the final stretch of regular season games.
Ahead of this weekend’s games, I had the chance to catch up with Brad LaPlante (@BradLaplante) of Spartan Illustrated (Rivals) to discuss what Michigan State’s focuses are heading into this weekend.
Get ready for a gritty weekend of Big Ten hockey
On paper, it seems like the Wolverines are the better team; however, on the ice, we will see two incredibly gritty teams duke it out just as we did earlier this season. Is there something that Michigan State does better that gives the Spartans an edge? Here is what Brad has to say:
“When Michigan State is at its best, I don’t think very much separates Michigan hockey from MSU. Both teams are incredibly similar and played very tough in the opening two stints in East Lansing and Ann Arbor. MSU has one big advantage and that is home ice on Friday. If you take away both losses to Minnesota at home in December (because the Gophers are playing in a league of their own right now), Michigan State has not lost a home game since Oct. 14 vs UMass-Lowell. The issue for Michigan State now is that Adam Fantilli was out at Team Canada’s WJC (World Juniors) camp when the teams last played. Fantilli averages 1.88 points per game so he’ll be an issue for MSU.”
Even the great teams have weaknesses, Michigan hockey included. I asked Brad about Michigan’s shortcomings from a Spartans’ perspective — what can MSU take advantage of?
“It seems that Michigan’s biggest weakness is Erik Portillo, who had an awful stretch for much of the season. His save percentage is at the bottom of the Big Ten and he’s had the worst season of any Big Ten goalie. Portillo did a poor job of controlling rebounds against MSU and a better team would have buried some of those. If MSU wants to sweep Michigan hockey, taking advantage of rebounds in front of the net will be key.”
As we enter the final stages of the 2022-23 regular season, picking up every possible point is essential for both programs right now. How much do these games mean for the Spartans?
“At this point, the worst thing for MSU is a sweep. There’s a four-way tie for second place with three weeks left in the season. After MSU swept Notre Dame, the Spartans are really riding high. Once MSU gets past Michigan, Wisconsin will be waiting. The Badgers have won three conference games all season so MSU has a real chance to finish on a high note. If you ask me, Michigan State has put themselves in a good spot. A sweep would be huge, but a split would also be fine (and is more likely too).”
Unlike last year, the Spartans have already notched a win against Michigan hockey this season. What did Michigan State do in the first series that it will need to do again this weekend in order to grab a win or two?
“Like I said, Fantilli was out for the series against MSU earlier this season, so the Spartans will need to make this game as hard as possible for him. Taking away that top line and killing penalties will also be very big for Michigan State. There’s also the question of Dylan St. Cyr, who arguably won the game for MSU earlier in the season. St. Cyr has been a brick wall for MSU and was just named the Big Ten’s First Star of the Week. A mix of solid goaltending and avoiding too many penalties will be part of MSU’s key to success.”
No. 5 Michigan hockey is set to face No. 15 Michigan State on Friday (7:00 PM EST) and Saturday (8:00 PM EST) in a thrilling weekend series that has huge implications for both programs and the Big Ten as a whole.
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