This is a B1G weekend for the Gophers. First conference road trip of the year. First time facing Michigan State as a conference opponent. A chance to win back the Honeycrisp Trophy. Lots of storylines to cover.
Since Michigan State is probably an unknown for most of us this year, I turned to Jeremy Dewar (@Jeremy_Dewar) from The Only Colors (@TheOnlyColors) community to help us better understand our new conference foe. He had some questions for me as well and you can find my answers in his TOC post.
The Daily Gopher: Michigan State is not a team Gopher fans have spent a lot of time with in the past. So I'll admit that I know nothing about your preseason expectations. The Spartans are 5-7 so far this season. Is this about where you thought they'd be or is this a disappointing start for MSU fans?
Jeremy Dewar: I'd say the record isn't too surprising for Spartan fans who had watched this team last season. The thing that has been disappointing is that, for the 2nd season in a row, the Spartans are one of the worst offenses in the country. After riding Torey Krug to am NCAA appearance in his first season as coach, Tom Anastos has had 2 seasons of an offensive drought. It took a 12 goal weekend last week against Princeton to lift the Spartans above 2.00 goals per game. If things don't turn around soon MSU may be fighting with Penn State to stay out of the basement of the B1G.
TDG: The Spartans seem to be struggling a little offensively. What has been missing far for MSU? What players should Gopher fans be keeping an eye on in the offensive zone?
JD: The struggles for MSU on offense seems to be tied to a lack of puck possession and an ability to create offense. Under Rick Comley the Spartans were a dump and chase team that scored ugly goals by winning in the corners and crashing the net. Anastos has brought in talent with a higher ceiling but these are still young freshman who have struggled with getting manhandled and pushed off the puck too easy. However, last weekend the freshman line of Thomas Ebbing, Mackenzie MacEachern and Villiam Haag was dynamic. That is a line the Gophers fans should pay attention to and captain Greg Wolfe is this team's leading scorer.
TDG: While they're performing better on defense than offense, MSU isn't dominating that zone either. Is this due more to the defensemen or is it more of a reflection of the play of goalie Jake Hildebrand?
JD: I am hesitant to blame the defensive struggles on the goaltenders. Most nights they come in with the pressure of having to keep every team under two goals. Also the Spartans penalty kill has been hovering around the 75% mark most of the season and has been the difference in some very close games in the early going. Hildebrand had a great freshman season last year and maybe has regressed slightly but he has been hung to dry way too often as well.
TDG: The first season of B1G hockey is officially under way. How are Spartans fans adjusting to the change? Is this move something that State fans were excited about coming into the year? Is there anything you miss about the CCHA?
JD: I think the CCHA teams of Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State have adjusted to the B1G and been more excited with the move than the WCHA teams. I think this move is great for our fanbase as we try to get MSU hockey more popular in the community. The outside fan can latch onto B1G match-ups they are familiar with and bring in rivalries from other sports Personally I will miss the CCHA championship in Detroit and the trips to the upper peninsula to play Lake Superior and Northern Michigan. I also won't miss explaining to new hockey fans that Miami of Ohio, while a MAC team in football, is a hockey power.
TDG: As I already mentioned, despite facing off in recent seasons for many Gopher fans this is a "get to know you" series. Is there anything else about the Michigan State players, program, or history that you think Gopher fans should know about?
JD: First of all please please please do not let what some University of Michigan fan has said to you at a Frozen Four mold your view of us because we share a state. Michigan State hockey has a passionate hockey subculture of fans that, while smaller than say Michigan or Minnesota's fanbases, is very knowledgeable and should be a great host to any Gophers traveling this weekend. This is a program that is still coming back from the end of the Rick Comley era. Recruiting and player development seemed to regress after the 2007 season and Tom Anastos has had an uphill battle at MSU. He has done great at getting fans and students excited about this hockey team and now the results just need to come through.
TDG: What are your predictions for the weekend? Does The Only Colors hold on to the Honeycrisp Trophy?
JD: These team has 5 wins and most of its goals come from sweeps of Princeton and American International. While the team looked great in both those series, those teams will finish below 40 in the pairwise I imagine. MSU may be able to get a win if they can slow the game down and take advantage of the Gophers on a smaller ice surface than Mariucci. I think Minnesota is just too good for Michigan State right now and gets out of East Lansing with a sweep.
Thanks again to Jeremy! As always, we'll have Open Threads ready to go on Friday and Saturday night so be sure to join in the puck talk as the Gophers go for a second B1G sweep.
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