Who: Michigan vs Michigan State
When: 12/29/14, 7:00pm, FS Detroit+
Where: Joe Louis Arena
Both teams took fairly different paths to get to the GLI final. The Spartans played their brand of hockey, taking the lead on a Brent Darnell goal and letting their defense take care of the rest by blocking shots and not making mistakes in front of Jake Hildebrand. An empty net goal sealed the win and shutout.
Michigan survived being outshot 41-21 by getting a 40 save performance from Steve Racine and hanging around long enough before breaking a 1-1 tie on a late 3rd period power play goal from Zach Hyman. The Wolverines stumbled through the first half of the season but with their win over Tech, they've put themselves right back into contention for an at-large bid.
In year four of the Tom Anastos era, the Spartans came into the season an easy pick to be the Big Ten's dark horse contender. Returning most of their core and a talented sophomore class, if they could find ways to score a postseason bid wasn't out of the question but halfway through the season sitting at 7-9-1 and 41st in the RPI rankings, the Spartans haven't found their breakthrough moment yet.
The mark of a Tom Anastos team during his tenure has always been great defense, shot blocking and outstanding goaltending. Where the Spartans fall short is secondary scoring; Michigan State has a lethal group of scorers led by noted Wolverine slayer Matt Berry, Michael Ferrantino and sophomore MacKenzie MacEachern but they still don't have great depth.
Like the Spartan teams of old they're tough to beat if they get the lead, dropping into a defensive shell, jamming the neutral zone and keeping everything easy for their goaltender.
In a matchup pitting the offensively challenged Spartans against the depleted Wolverines, this game looks like a classic 1-0 or 2-1 final score. Whichever team makes a mistake first loses.