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Michigan Hockey: The Wolverines are set for a pivotal two-game clash against Michigan State

The Wolverines are entering their most important four-game stretch of the season.

Duel In The D: Michigan v Michigan State Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

The No. 15 Michigan Wolverines (10-7-3) are set to begin the most important four-game stretch of their season tonight against rival No. 7 Michigan State (15-4-3).

The Spartans, ranked No. 3 in Pairwise, provide the perfect opportunity for the Wolverines to bolster their position in the Big Ten conference standings and solidify their NCAA Tournament resume. However, this is not the Michigan State team of old. Since taking over last season, head coach Adam Nightingale has led the Spartans to a 33-22-5 record and transformed the program into an NCAA title contender in less than two years.

On the ice, the Spartans are one of the best offensive teams in the country. Led by transfer forward Joey Larson’s 26 points (14G, 12A), Michigan State has four players on its roster with 20 or more points, and a fifth only one point away. Karsen Dorwart (9G, 12A) is one of those four and has been lethal on the power play with seven of his nine goals coming from special teams.

Defensively, 2024 top-five NHL Draft prospect Artyom Levshunov (6G, 18A) is the most important player for the Spartans. Levshunov is a two-way player who leads his team with a ridiculous +22 on-ice rating and is balanced by the sponge Matt Basagall who has blocked 35 shots this season.

Between the pipes, freshman Trey Augustine has quickly grown into a star. Augustine has posted a .919 save percentage and 2.81 goals against average in 19 starts and has shown flashes of excellence to put him in the conversation with any top goalie in the country.

Michigan State is one of the best teams in college hockey, but they are not the most physical. Through controlled aggression and a strong net-front presence, the Wolverines could find success in securing one or two precious regulation wins.

Michigan is fresh off a two-game sweep over lowly Stonehill who is still yet to win a game this season. Despite the talent gap, the Wolverines executed at a high level, shook off any rust from the winter break, and built momentum for this crucial stretch of the season.

Up front, the nation’s second-leading scoring offense is led by five forwards with at least 20 or more points. TJ Hughes (11G, 15A) is the scoring leader (among forwards) with 26 points, with sniper Gavin Brindley hot on his heels with 25 (15G, 10A). Alternate captain Dylan Duke (10G, 14A) and Frank Nazar III (10G, 14A) are tied for third with 24 points apiece, and despite missing almost a month of the season, the World Juniors team captain of gold medal-winning Team USA, Rutger McGroarty (6G, 17A), is holding strong with 23 points of his own.

On the blue line, Ethan Edwards’s (1A) season debut last weekend provided much-needed support to Seamus Casey (4G, 24A). Casey is the leading scorer for the Wolverines and has blossomed into one of the most electrifying players in college hockey. But without Edwards, Casey was shouldering too much of the offensive burden and it was creating diminished returns for the star defensively.

In net, Jake Barczewski has posted a .908 save percentage and 2.80 goals against average. When given support, Barzo has been a solid goaltender for the Wolverines, but in these next four games, the transfer journeyman will be forced to be more than solid and make some big saves on his own.

Game 1

When: Friday, Jan. 19, 7 p.m. ET

Where: Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, MI

How to watch: BIG+

How to listen: WXYT 1270 AM

Game 2

When: Saturday, Jan. 20, 7 p.m. ET

Where: Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, MI

How to watch: BIG+

How to listen: WXYT 1270 AM