The No. 11 Michigan Wolverines are set for their second series in a month with the No. 9 Michigan State Spartans. Three weeks ago in a home-and-home series, both road teams prevailed. First, it was the Wolverines dominating at Munn, 7-1, and on the subsequent Saturday, it was the Spartans overcoming a 4-1 second-period deficit to come back and win, 7-5.
With Big Ten and NCAA Tournament seeding swinging every weekend, this two-game series is pivotal for the two rivals as they jockey for postseason positioning. Not to mention, the Duel in the D Trophy is on the line in Saturday’s matchup in Detroit; a trophy the Wolverines have won six consecutive times, a fact that is not lost on anyone in East Lansing.
Looking to end this drought, the Spartans are led by a quartet of 25+ point-scorers, including the dynamic Nico Muller (7G, 18A). Muller was the bane of Michigan’s existence three weeks ago. In Michigan State’s come-from-behind win, it was Muller registering two goals and four total points to help lead the green and white to victory. However, Michigan State’s most important player is on the blue line.
2024 top-five NHL Draft prospect Artyom Levshunov (8G, 19A) is the best player for the Spartans and a dark horse for the Hobey Baker Award. Levshunov is the quintessential two-way player who leads his team with an incredible +24 on-ice rating. The Pippen to Levhsunov’s Jordan is fellow blue-liner Matt Basagall who has embraced handling the dirty work for the tandem as evidenced by his 41 blocked shots this season.
In net, freshman Trey Augustine blossomed into a star in the first half of the season, but has slightly cooled down in the second half. Regardless, Augustine’s .914 save percentage is misleading of the type of goalie he can be. On any given night, especially against a rival, Augustine can heat up and show why he was the netminder for the gold medal-winning Team USA at World Juniors in December.
The Wolverines will undoubtedly have their hands full this weekend, but for 50 of 60 minutes three weeks ago, Michigan proved it can skate the Spartans off the ice, and that should inspire confidence for this next showdown.
Michigan is coming off a two-game sweep of Ohio State to help bolster its second-half record to 6-2, which includes only one regulation loss– to Michigan State. Up front, you know the names for the Wolverines, but one to highlight is Rutger McGroarty.
After missing the final month of the first half of the season, McGroarty returned to the ice at World Juniors and has resumed his top-tier form as well for the Wolverines. McGroarty led all college hockey players in January with 16 points and is back on top in the national standings averaging 1.67 points-per-game.
Michigan is well known for its avalanche of offense, but its blue line has proven to be the biggest difference-maker in the team’s consistency. Seamus Casey (5G, 29A) is an undeniable star and Ethan Edwards’s (2G, 2A) January debut has added a spark, but Tyler Duke (2G, 12A) has proven to be an X-factor for this team.
Simply put, when Duke plays well, Michigan plays well, which has been a trend the last month as seen through Duke’s +12 rating. Tyler has added a grit and nastiness that this team so desperately needed and has proven that he is much more than just Dylan’s little brother.
Lastly, don’t look now, but Jake Barczewski is rounding into veteran form. Barzo has raised his save percentage to .910 and has added games of domination to his resume. Two weeks ago, in a 5-1 win against Wisconsin, Barzo posed a ridiculous 42 saves to single-handedly stymy the Badgers’ attack.
The stage is set for another epic clash. Michigan State is seventh in the Pairwise rankings and Michigan is tied for No. 11. If either team hopes to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, their case begins tonight.
When: Friday, Feb. 9, 7 p.m. ET
Where: Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, MI
How to watch: BIG+
How to listen: WXYT 1270 AM
Game 2 (Duel in the D)
When: Saturday, Feb. 10, 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, MI
How to watch: Big Ten Network
How to listen: WXYT 1270 AM