Minnesota Gopher hockey vs future Big Ten Conference rival Michigan State

Are you excited for the Gophers to play MSU this weekend? Because starting in 2013 we'll be seeing a lot of them. Likely a lot more than current rivals North Dakota, and all the Minnesota schools. The Gophs and Sparty are pretty familiar with each other over the years, as the two had met annually in the College Hockey Showcase that pitted Minnesota and Wisconsin of the WCHA against MSU and Michigan from the CCHA. As Jess Myers of 1500 E!SPN writes, the series stopped this season because of the creation of the B1G, but the four schools will meet plenty in the future.

Sparty has a solid program history with three national titles (most recent was 2007), nine Frozen Fours, and 23 NCAA tourney appearances. They've also had two Hobey Baker award winners in center Kip Miller (1990) and some goalie named Ryan Miller (2001). Maybe you've heard of him? Since their last natty title MSU has fallen from grace as they've missed the NCAA's the past three seasons (sound familiar, Gopher fans?). After three sub-par seasons they fired coach Rick Comley at the end of last season and hired Tom Anastos. In his first year MSU is 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the CCHA. Against opponents of note, the 20th ranked Spartans split with #9 Ohio State and Northern Michigan.

MSU has four players with at least 10 points, led by two sophomores- Lee Reimer (6-11-17) and Greg Wolfe (4-8-12)- and two seniors- Mike Merrifield (7-3-10) and Brett Perlini (3-7-10). There's one Minnesota on the roster, senior Matt Crandell of St Cloud (0-6-6 and 12 PIM), and have 15 kids from the state of Michigan on the roster (I'm always interested in how many kids from their home state schools from other strong high school hockey states like Michigan and Massachusetts have).

This will be a good road test for Minnesota and their Movember staches, and while it doesn't count for the WCHA standings, it still matters for strengthening the U's NCAA tourney resume (isn't it fun to be talking about the NCAA tourney this year and the Gophers not only having a chance to make it but to actually DO something?). The Gophs have struggled in their last two Friday roadies, losing to Sconnie and St Cloud, so we'll see if they come out fast and sharp, and can then continue that into the second night of the series, where the Gophs have only lost once (to Vermont).

Nick Bjugstad has been dominant the past few weekends (and is playing his way out of town the NHL) with six points (five goals and 1 assist) in his past four games.The guy who needs to get going again is second-line center Eric Haula, who believe it or not hasn't scored a goal since potting two against Alaska-Anchorage almost a month ago on October 28th. Now that the Gophs are into the meat of their schedule, their scoring has dropped to mortal levels from over 5 goals a game to 4.36, which is still good for tops in the WCHA. Their defense and goaltending continues to be excellent, giving up just 24 goals in 14 games for an average of just 1.87 goals per game, and their power play and penalty kill continue to be some of the best in the country.

If the Gophers play their game, roll four lines that are fast and aggressive, they should handle MSU this weekend. But if they allow the Spartans are able to slow the pace and keep Minnesota's shots to the outside (like both St Cloud, Wisconsin and North Dakota were able to do in their Friday night games) it'll be a very tough series. Both games the puck drops at 6:05 CST and can be seen on FSN.

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