And here they come again… (Fort Wayne Komets fans out there will understand the reference)
NCAA Hockey teams are at the early point in the year, where these games can either make or break their seasons. Last week, we saw Minnesota State pull off a huge, upset sweep of Boston University. The Terriers appeared to be the better of the two teams, but the Mavericks proved once again that they are reloaded and ready for a big year. This week, we take a look at two teams who are trying to silence the critics and prove they can be successful on the ice. It’s an in-state rivalry matchup, as Western Michigan takes on Michigan State!
Western Michigan Broncos v. Michigan State Spartans
Game Details –
Friday, 10/20/17 and Saturday, 10/21/17
7:05pm (ET) and 7:05pm (ET)
Munn Ice Area (East Lansing, MI) and Lawson Ice Arena (Kalamazoo, MI)
Game Preview –
The Michigan State Spartans are coming off a fairly good weekend against Bowling Green, as they salvaged a split in the series. On Friday night, the Spartans got off to a very rough start, as the Falcons of Bowling Green put three pucks past goaltender Ed Minney in a three-minute span. After John Lethemon entered the game to guard the Spartan’s crease, the teams skated to a 4-1 decision. Saturday night was a much different script, as Michigan State was able to push the pace of play and score one goal in each period, earning a 3-2 win over Bowling Green. This gives the Green and White a 1-1 record on the year.
During this series, Michigan State proved they are capable of generating scoring chances, but their goaltending seems to be up for debate. Giving up six goals in a series isn’t horrible, but it’s also not ideal for a team that only mustered four offensive tallies over the weekend. Goal differential can be a critical statistic, especially if neither your goaltending nor your offense is stellar. Western Michigan will be a good test for the Spartans, as they look to turn the corner and show improvement from their previous season. Last year’s 7-24-4 overall record, with only three conference wins, was a big disappointment for their program. If they can’t get the ball rolling early, they may find themselves being at the bottom of the Big Ten yet again.
Western Michigan, a team arguably under-performing so far on the season, will look to get back to business this weekend. A 2-2-1 record through five games is not what the Broncos had hoped for, but two big wins over an in-state rival could be a potential momentum swing. Western Michigan started out with two of three wins against WCHA opponents, but hit a big road block against Clarkson this past weekend. Don’t underestimate your opponents, kids; they may just derail your season. Now, derail is strong word choice, but the win-less weekend against the Golden Knights (if you wondered why Las Vegas ran into licensing trouble, here’s your answer) was less than ideal. NCAA teams only have about 35 games on the schedule, so every one counts. This will surely be the mantra of the Broncos as they take on the Spartans.
The Western Michigan roster is filled with quality players that know how to win games. Currently, there are three skaters playing at a point-per-game pace. Although not sustainable, they need their leaders to continue this scoring. In net, there really isn’t a question as to who the Broncos lean on. Ben Blacker has played in all five games so far this season, giving up a total of ten goals against. His 1.98 GAA is already an improvement from his freshman campaign. Keep an eye on this goalie and how he responds to fulltime starting duties.
As former CCHA rivals, these teams have pride on the line. A home-and-home series will help decide which of them takes a stride forward and which one takes a few steps back.
Players to Watch-
Western Michigan – Junior Forward, Colt Conrad; Sophomore Defensemen, Cam Lee; Sophomore Goalie, Ben Blacker
Michigan State – Sophomore Forward, Taro Hirose; Sophomore Forward, Patrick Khodorenko; Junior Forward, Cody Milan