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Michigan hockey set for rivalry clash with Michigan State

College hockey’s most storied rivalry is set for another two chapters this weekend in East Lansing and Ann Arbor.

COLLEGE HOCKEY: FEB 19 Ohio State at Michigan Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The No. 6 Michigan Wolverines (11-6-1) head to East Lansing today for the first game of a weekend home-and-home series with the No. 12 ranked Michigan State Spartans (11-6-1).

College hockey’s most played rivalry will be marked by games 334 and 335 this weekend, and first-year Spartans head coach Adam Nightingale is determined to re-balance this lopsided rivalry. Michigan has won 11 of the last 12 against the Spartans, but Nightingale already has Michigan State one win away from its entire season win total in 2021.

The Spartans have been one of the surprises of the season, and Nightingale has orchestrated this meteoric turnaround through a balanced offensive effort. Michigan State’s top line of Jagger Joshua, Karsen Dorwart and Daniel Russell lead the team in scoring with six, seven and six goals, respectively.

While average defensively, Michigan State goalie Dylan St. Cyr is not. He is second in the Big Ten with a .924 save percentage and leads the country with a staggering 522 saves. When the Spartans have to lean on St. Cyr, especially on power play kills, he is excellent and is the biggest reason why Michigan State’s penalty killing unit has been so effective.

This weekend will be the last non-exhibition game for Michigan hockey until Jan. 13, when the Wolverines welcome Ohio State to Yost Arena for a two-game series. If I can add one more note before the break: remove the interim tag from Brandon Naurato.

Keys to the game

Adjust to the officiating. Last weekend in Madison, the Wolverines were called for a staggering 16 penalties. While several were questionable at best, Michigan must adapt its style to appease more whistle-happy officials. In a rivalry weekend where emotions will be running high, Michigan must not suffer too many self inflicted wounds.

Stay cohesive on defense. All season, Michigan has struggled in the neutral zone and has time and time again allowed odd-man rushes where its defense is stretched within an inch of its life. The Wolverines must remain assignment disciplined on the back-check and mitigate mistakes in the middle of the ice.

Ride hot players; find the next hot players. Michigan’s production has come from several places and currently, freshman forward Rutger McGroarty, freshman defenseman Seamus Casey and sophomore Mark Estapa have been the team standouts the last few games.

While others have struggled, this trio has answered the bell and helped pick up the slack in the scoring department. In large part due to depth, Michigan remains the second-highest scoring team in the country and has received contributions across all four lines. It is important to empower this triumvirate, while looking for the next wave of scoring answers once they cool off. It feels like the time for another Mackie Samosekvich run.

GAME 1

WHEN: Friday, Dec. 9, 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: East Lansing, MI, Munn Arena

HOW TO WATCH: Big Ten Network

HOW TO LISTEN: Varsity Podcast Network


GAME 2

WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 10, 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: Ann Arbor, MI, Yost Arena

HOW TO WATCH: Big Ten Network

HOW TO LISTEN: Varsity Podcast Network