Jan. 23, 2012
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
For the last three weeks, Tom Anastos has been heard to say:
"We're playing a really good team."
The MSU coach said it before his team played Miami and the RedHawks proved him right. He said it before the Spartans' series with Northern Michigan and was right on again. And course, just a week ago, Anastos made the same comments about Lake Superior State and the Lakers also proved to be a very good team as MSU pulled out a 4-2 victory and played LSSU to a 2-2 tie.
Guess what's ahead for the Spartans?
Three more very good teams -- Ferris State, Ohio State and Michigan.
And this three-week stretch includes only one home game, four on the road and one in Detroit.
So, if the eighth-place Spartans (13-9-3 overall, 8-7-3-2 CCHA) are to climb up league standings into a more comfortable spot, they're going to have to find some success on the road - first in Big Rapids this weekend and then in Columbus, Feb. 3-4.
Forgive the Spartans if they can even remember what it's like to play a road game in the CCHA. Their last seven league games at been at Munn Arena. The most recent visit to an enemy rink was Dec. 9 at Michigan - a 4-3 loss on Dec. 9.
MSU seems receptive to challenges. They're going to get some big ones the next three weekends, including two games with Michigan, and probably even against 10th-place Alaska, which visits Munn Arena, Feb. 17-18. The Nanooks probably aren't a "very good team," but most likely they'll be dangerous.
To close the season, the Spartans will see Notre Dame for the first time, and it's on the road at the Irish's new home - 5,000-seat the Compton Family Ice Arena.
But like the Spartan players, fans and media can't be looking too far ahead. No sense in dwelling on Coach Jeff Jackson and the Fighting Irish with the surprising Bulldogs coming up this weekend.
Ferris State is one of the most surprising teams in the nation. The Bulldogs, picked to finish 9th and 7th in the CCHA coaches and media polls, respectively, have been ranked in the top 20 most of the season. Since losing twice in a tournament in Vermont -- to RIT and Vermont - FSU is 4-0-2 over the last three weekends against Colgate (2-0) and Alaska (1-0-1) at home and Ohio State (1-0-1) on the road.
"As long as I can remember, Ferris State sees Michigan State as a major rival,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "Their building will be buzzing and they'll feed off that energy, and that's a very good team.
"They're have strong goaltending and they're big and strong. I think there's a mental mindset (you have to have) to prepare yourself to play in that environment. I think our guys will do a good job with it.''
MSU is 3-4 on the road this season with two victories at Western Michigan and one at Northern Michigan, two losses at LSSU, one at NMU and one at Michigan.
"We have to come out stronger, keep it stronger and limit our turnovers,'' Spartan junior left wing Dean Chelios said. "If we do that, we'll be fine.''
CCHA RACE TIGHTENS: The big winners from this past weekend's CCHA battles were Miami and Ferris State and the big losers were Western Michigan and Ohio State.
The RedHawks, 5-0-1 in 2012, swept Western Michigan, 3-1 and 4-0, to climb into a tie for second place with the Broncos with 33 points, and two in back of first place Ohio State. WMU has played two fewer games than Miami, and OSU.
The Spartans earned four of six points but remained in eighth place with 29 points, but only four behind second place Miami and Western Michigan, three in back of fourth-place Michigan, two away from fifth-place Ferris State, and one point behind sixth-place Notre Dame and Lake Superior State.
MSU has played two fewer games than OSU, Miami, Michigan and LSSU.
Things are so close in the CCHA standings that a Spartan sweep of FSU and if Lake Superior State wins two from OSU, MSU would be tied with the Buckeyes and the Lakers could be in first place.
This weekend, the Wolverines are off. If the Spartans sweep they'll move three points ahead of U-M. Next weekend, the Michigan hosts Miami.
In other games this weekend, NMU visits Miami, Alaska plays host to Notre Dame and Western Michigan plays a home-and-home series against Bowling Green.
SOLID SERIES: Spartan junior defenseman Torey Krug had a very strong series against Lake Superior State. He had a goal and an assist, was a plus-4 and blocked eight shots in a victory and tie. Krug played in his 100th and 101st games for the Spartans. His plus-18 is second best in CCHA.
0VERTIME OVERLOAD: MSU has played an overtime game in each of its last five series going back to the two games against Michigan, Dec. 9-10. The Spartans are 0-2-3 in overtimes in that six-game stretch and 1-2-3 overall.
MSU and U-M played to a 3-3 tie at Munn Arena on Dec. 10. In the Great Lakes Invitational, the Spartans lost 3-2 in overtime to the Wolverines on Dec. 30. A week later, MSU lost 2-1 in OT to Miami at Munn Arena and then played to a pair of overtime ties at home - 5-5 against Northern Michigan on Jan. 13 and 2-2 vs. LSSU this past Saturday.