Michigan State Spartans 0-0-0 (0-0-0) Big Ten T-1st
Massachusetts Minutemen 0-1-0 (0-1-0) Hockey East T-4th
The Massachusetts hockey team kicks off their non-conference schedule and a key three week, three state road stretch Friday night in East Lansing, Michigan against the Spartans of Michigan State. The Minutemen will be looking to rebound from a season opening loss to the Boston University Terriers in a game where the lopsided 8-1 final score masks the fact that they were only down a single goal after two periods. UMass and Michigan State met this same weekend last year in Amherst with UMass gaining the weekend sweep, outscoring the Spartans 8-3 in the two games. The series featured a couple multi-goal games from Minutemen with Branden Gracel netting two on Friday and then freshman Steven Iacobellis scoring two goals to go with an assist on the Saturday.
Michigan State hasn’t played a real game this year so it’s tough to know exactly what the Minutemen will be facing when they take the ice at Munn Ice Arena on Friday. They did have an exhibition game against a Canadian team as well as an intrasquad scrimmage. The results of the intrasquad scrimmage could be an indicator for what Sparty fans are in store for this year. The game ended in a 0-0 tie and had to be settled with penalty shots. That in a nutshell could be what Michigan State faces this year, an inability to score and above average goaltending.
MSU lost their top three scorers from a team that only scored 2.19 goals per game last year. They’ll first look to senior Matt Berry to solve their scoring woes as he’s coming off a season that saw him score 10 times total despite missing a third of the season due to injury. That’s it in terms of returners who scored double digits in goals. Junior Michael Ferrantino, captain of the team, had 9 goals and 11 assists last year. Friday will mark the first game in the green and white for freshman Dylan Pavalek who is expected to contribute quickly as he comes out of the US National Development Program.
There are no question marks for the Spartans in net where junior Jake Hillenbrand will likely keep his team in a lot of games this season. As a sophomore last year his .923 save percentage ranked him among the top 20 goaltenders in the country. If he continues to develop MSU could end up being one of the better defensive teams in the country.
On offense UMass is facing the same challenges as Michigan state. They’ve lost a lot of scoring from their team that last year was ranked near the bottom nationally for offense. Unlike Michigan State, they have a much larger freshman class that will be looked upon to pick up the slack for goals this season. Defenseman Jake Horton got on the scoring sheet last week, but the freshman forwards plus Frank Vatrano need to break out as well. The top line of Vatrano, Dennis Kravchenko, and senior captain Troy Power got some good looks last week but need to find the back of the net. A little worrisome is the sophomore duo of Ray Pigozzi and Iacobellis who only combined for three total shots against BU. They’ll need to generate more offense than that to have an impact on the outcome.
I think more than Xs and Os or line combinations what’s most important this weekend is for the team to give a consistent effort and stay mentally tough. For the freshman the first game jitters should be history. The team has had another week to get used to linemates and perhaps learn new schemes. It was awful to witness and seriously concerning at the time when it was occurring, but several days later the third period collapse doesn’t worry me as much as it did. I think we can write if off to inexperience and the pressure of the night. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be acceptable going forward. Giving up goals in bunches like that and not getting back on defense simply cannot happen. And hopefully the lesson has been learned that you just cannot let up like they did, because a team like BU will make you pay for it over and over.
The timing of this road trip is probably a good thing for the team. They’re able to do some travelling, which could work to bond the team together. And the first year players will have a chance to get used to a typical road trip routine and dealing with a hostile crowd before they head to Northeastern and Boston College next weekend in games that will count towards the Hockey East standings. I don’t think there is a ton of pressure on the team to repeat last year’s sweep but at the same time such a result isn’t completely unreasonable. But at the end of the weekend it’ll probably be enough to just know that the offense is starting to click and the players are not missing their defensive responsibilities before moving on to the conference game trips in the coming weeks.
Beer The Triangle
East Lansing is actually a town I’ve spent significant time in. Unfortunately for my BTT feature,most of that time was close to 20 years ago and before I turned 21. This looks like somewhere I’d check out though. Hell, you could always just drive down to Kalamazoo and check out one of my favorite breweries, Bell’s Brewing.
The Collegian has their preview of the Spartan series.
Frank Vatrano and Steve Mastalerz made this All-Massachusetts Team put together by Jeff Cox of SB Nation.
Ever want to drive the Zamboni at the Mullins? Here is your chance!