This weekend, the Minnesota Golden Gophers head to East Lansing for their first Big Ten action of the year against the Michigan State Spartans. I feel like I learned a lot about Michigan State hockey last year, as it was my first real opportunity to see the team play more than one game (BTN has its upside).
Rather than do lots of research on their play so far this year, I figured I could lean on Mr. Jeremy Dewar from The Only Colors because he knows the Spartans better than I do, even with research. And yes, I asked him about Scotch.
DarkKnight5: It seems like MSU has been weak offensively the past couple of years, but it appears they're improving. In the 2012-2013 season they averaged 2.07 goals per game, then 2.19 GPG last year, and so far this year they're at 2.23 GPG. Which Spartans are emerging as the scoring leaders? Are there underclassmen contributing to the improvement, or are the older players developing?
Jeremy Dewar: The offense has definitely improved this year, however it is still very erratic. This is an offense that scored 2 goals in three games early in the year but can also break out for 8 goals in a weekend as well. The biggest difference this year is being very competitive on shots on goal and having stronger possession than they have had in years. Scorers to watch are really on the first two lines, Matt Berry has the best scoring ability, Mike Ferrantino has the best shot and sophomore Mackenzie MacEachern (St. Louis Blues) is rounding into form. The scoring is pretty even between the Ferrantino (Jr), Berry (Sr.) and the entire sophomore class.
DK5: Other than the players you mention in #1, has anyone stepped up their game this year, even if it's not showing up on the stat sheet? Watching him play last year, it seemed like Villiam Haag has lots of potential. How's he looked this year?
JD: Villiam has had a good year this year as well and it helps that he is playing with his fellow sophomore linemates from last season, MacEachern and Thomas Ebbing. A guy who has 5 assists and is overlooked in his class is sophomore Joe Cox. He is a big body, playing on the first line with Berry and Ferrantino and does a lot of the hard work to get those guys their chances.
DK5: 5-8 (1-1) isn't a terrible record, but hockey fans in the State of Michigan have high standards for their teams. Is Tom Anastos' chair getting warm, or are MSU fans comfortable with the status/direction of the program?
JD: I would say Anastos' chair is slightly warm, but unless they absolutely tank the B1G season he will be retained. Under Rick Comley ties to the metro-Detroit AAA programs were severed and the recruiting wasn't up to MSU standards. Anastos has rebuilt those and both the university president (big hockey fan) and athletic director have come out recently in Anastos' support talking about the process of rebuilding a hockey team being longer than football or basketball.
DK5: Looking more in depth at MSU's schedule, it looks like the Spartans have struggled against quality opponents (1-4 against ranked teams) but they've played pretty well against everyone else (4-4). Are the Spartans a middle-of-the-pack team this year, or are they on the cusp of being able to consistently contend against elite teams?
JD: I think middle of the pack is more fitting. They have played close in those games against ranked opponents but can't put it all together yet.
DK5: Jake Hildebrand is a stud, but shot-blocking always seems to be a big part of MSU's defensive zone strategy. Is that the case this year, or are they relying more on puck possession to limit shots on goal?
JD: Shot blocking is still a big emphasis for this team. As Anastos has started to getting better quality players into the program they will transition to a more puck possession team but against great opponents like the Gophers that quality depth isn't there to not focus on shot blocking.
DK5: The Big Ten has struggled mightily in the first two months of the season. What's your perception of the state of the conference? What would make it better? The conventional wisdom seems to be that more teams will be an improvement, do you agree? Is Arizona State part of the answer?
JD: Well I don't feel that more teams necessarily is the way to get improvement, seeing as the struggles this year have come from out of conference play and not teams cannibalizing each other. I do think more teams may help hide some league issues, since you would play less out of conference teams and get the chance to get up on weaker teams (we miss you Lake State!). I do look forward to B1G expansion and I am excited about ASU joining D1. Conference season can be a drag playing the same 5 teams so often so I hope expansion is soon.
DK5: Give me a prediction for the series this weekend, if you please.
JD: The Spartans played very close with Minnesota last season and even found a win to get a couple of shootout victories. So I don't see the Gophers throttling the Spartans this weekend. However, solving Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) will be difficult and Hildebrand has not been as strong in the Spartan net. I'll say the Gophers sweep 4-2, 3-0.
DK5: As a person named Danny, I can empathize with how annoying my next question is going to be, but I can't help myself. Just rest assured that 75% of people, upon meeting me for the first time, sing the first four bars of "Oh Danny Boy" and laugh like it was the wittiest thing they've every done. I find it irritating, personally, so I understand that this question is annoying. We're a blog that covers bourbon a lot. Your last name is Dewar, so what's your favorite Scotch?
JD: Hahaha I am new to the Scotch game and am working through my first Dewar's fifth from my engagement party. (I'm 25 not quite to my scotch phase yet). So if were going scotch I'd say Dewar's has to be my favorite. Mainly a beer guy, living in beer city and home of Founder's Grand Rapids, MI.
Thanks again to Jeremy for taking time to write for us. Give him a follow on the Twitter:
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