Gopher Hockey: Know Thine Enemy- Michigan State

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This is a big weekend for Gopher Hockey. The team welcomes the Michigan State Spartans into Mariucci with six important league points on the line. More importantly, ownership of the legendary Honeycrisp Trophy is at stake. Since the Gophers and Spartans will not meet again in the regular season in either hockey or basketball, the Trophy will reside with winner for the foreseeable future, possibly this fall.

I think I speak for all of us at TDG when I say we want that trophy. The bragging rights are just irresistible. You can check out the rival blog preview at The Only Colors.

The Opponents!

Stats via USCHO.com Minnesota Michigan State
Conference Record 7-0-1 (22 Pts.) 2-4-2-2 (10 Pts.)
Overall Record 18-2-4 (.833) 8-12-3 (.413)
KRACH
1 of 59 (719.4) 44 of 59 (67.43)
KRACH SOS
2 of 59 46 of 59
Pairwise Power
58 (1 of 59) 15 (Tied 44 of 59)

There’s no getting around this fact, the Spartans are part of the second tier of the B1G Ten Hockey Conference. Still, they managed to steal two points from the Gophers during the first series between the teams in a shootout, the only two conference points the Gophers have not claimed this season.

If you watched that series, you know that the Spartans play a gritty, Lemaire-esque style intended to slow opposing offenses down. They’ve been pretty successful in this regard: they allow fewer than three goals per game. In the two games in East Lansing, the Spartans limited the Gophers to five goals.

When a team relies on its defense to win games, you can assume that their offense is handicapped. The Spartans’ record proves that the best defense is often times a good offense. The Spartans also prove that the best offense is rarely a good defense. Now that I’ve word-twisted this paragraph to an acceptable length, I’ll get to the point and just point out that they allow more goals than they score, which is the opposite of how this game is supposed to be played.

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The Spartans just absorbed a weekend sweep at the hands of most-hated rival Michigan. The losses were impactful on the B1G standings: had the Spartans swept, they would be number 2 on the table, within six points of Minnesota for the conference lead. Instead, the Wolverines passed them by and Sparty now sits in fourth, twelve points off the pace. Their underwhelming overall record against a bottom quarter strength of schedule means this team is not great.

The Players

The Spartans scoring leader is senior Greg Wolfe, who has 8 goals and 9 assists. Seniors Jake Chelios and Lee Reimer round out the scoring top three. Another senior Chelios, Dean, sits fifth on the scoring table. The brightest spot in the Spartans future offense is Michael Ferrantino, who has 13 points in 23 games.

A few other underclassmen to keep your eye on: Freshman Mackenzie MacEachern, Joe Cox, und Villiam Haag (what a great name to say with a thick German accent!).

The Sparty net is kept primarily by sophomore Jake Hildebrand. Hildebrand’s win percentage has been victimized by the lack of team offense. He allows only 2.33 goals against per game and has a sterling .927 save percentage. If the Spartans have success this weekend, it will likely be due to Hildebrand’s efforts.

Prediction Time


Minnesota
Michigan State
Advantage
Goals For/Game
3.83
2.30
Minnesota
Goals Against/Game
2.04
2.43
Minnesota
Shots/Game
35.7
30.0
Minnesota
Shots Allowed/Game
29.1
32.2
Minnesota
KRACH SOS
2nd
46th
Minnesota

These are two very different teams. Minnesota has the obvious skill advantage on both sides of the puck. Excellent goaltending is the only common trait. Adam Wilcox (vote for him for Hobey Baker here!) negates any advantage that Hildebrand might have provided to the Spartans. Since all stats point heavily in the Gophers’ favor, I have to call for the sweep. Anything but six points this weekend is a disappointment.

B1G Ten Predictions

These are six vital points in the conference race. Horses two and three, Wisconsin and Michigan, face off in Ann Arbor and we can only hope that they savage each other. I think the best possible outcome of that series is a split (combined with the predicted Gophers’ sweep) which would allow the Gophers to add three points on both teams. I just don’t see Wisconsin sweeping this series a second time with the added difficulty of playing on the road, but I don’t see Michigan sweeping it either.

Someone might want to send a note to the State of Ohio so that they know the Buckeye hockey team faces off against Penn State this weekend. I think there’s a fair chance that Penn State fans outnumber Buckeye fans and they get to see their team earn its first B1G Ten win. I think Ohio State wins the Saturday contest because their offense is too good to lose to Penn State twice, evening the basement series. Can’t wait for that season finale series in Happy Valley!

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