Jan. 28, 2013
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
Michigan State had high hopes in January for improvement and more victories. It didn't happen.
Michigan also had high hopes for a better January and more wins. It also didn't happen.
The Spartans went 2-5 in January, slipped into last place in the 11-team Central Collegiate Hockey Association and lost to the U.S. National Team Development Program's U-18 team.
The Wolverines compiled a 1-6 record, dropped into a tie for 10th place with Bowling Green and also lost to the NTDP's U-18 team.
Now, it's on to February for both teams and an opportunity to deflect some of the negatives from the first four months of the season and finish with more of an upbeat feeling.
It's fitting that the Spartans and Wolverines begin the month facing each other. Perhaps they can focus more on the intense and emotional aspects of rivalry rather than worrying about records, losing streaks and places in the CCHA standings.
MSU (7-16-3 overall, 5-12-1-0 CCHA) and Michigan (8-16-2, 5-13-2-2) meet for the fourth and fifth times this season - at 6:30 p.m. on Friday at Yost Arena and at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
The Wolverines hold a 2-1 edge this season. The teams split a CCHA series in November - U-M winning 5-1 at Yost Arena and MSU claiming a 7-2 victory the next night at Munn Arena. In the third-place game in the Great Lakes Invitational on Dec. 30, Michigan rallied from a 3-2 deficit in the third period and cruised to a 5-2 win.
The Spartans seemed to be in good position to earn their first sweep of the season last Saturday against Penn State. After a 5-3 win over the Nittany Lions on Friday, MSU carried a 2-0 lead into the second period.
Penn State scored an early power-play goal and took control of period. In the third period, the Nittany Lions took advantage of MSU's defensive miscues by tying the game with an early goal and took the lead for good with four minutes left and held on for a 3-2 victory.
The Nittany Lions, playing in their first season as a varsity program, fired 50 shots at MSU goalie Jake Hildebrand, who stopped 47 of them. The Spartans had 33 shots on PSU goalie Matt Skoff.
"Until we figure out a way to play 60 minutes every night, it's going to be hard to win games, back-to-back or consistently,'' MSU junior right wing and captain Greg Wolfe said.
If the Spartans hope to avoid the bottom three spots in the CCHA standings and finish at least 8th to at least earn home ice for the first round of the playoffs, they'll have to beat out Michigan, Bowling Green and Northern Michigan.
Those three teams just happen to be MSU's next three opponents. After the U-M series, the Spartans play a home-and-home series with BGSU, Feb. 8-9, and then host NMU, Feb. 15-16. The Spartans finish with a series at Alaska and two home games against Western Michigan.
The top five teams in the CCHA earn first-round byes. Teams finishing 6th, 7th and 8th host first-round, best-of-three series against teams placing No. 9, 10 and 11 The matchups are No. 11 at No. 6; No. 10 at No. 7; and No. 9 at No. 8.
The three winners advance to the second round with the lowest-ranked survivor playing at the first-place team in a best-of-three series. The second-lowest faces No. 2, third-lowest plays at No. 3, and No. 4 plays host to No. 5.
The Spartans, Falcons and Wildcats each have 10 games left in the regular season. The Wolverines have eight.
Michigan is coming off two losses at Western Michigan, 3-2 and 5-1. The Wolverines have lost three straight and are 4-13-1 since beating the Spartans on Nov. 9.
The Spartans are 3-11-2 since beating U-M on Nov. 10.
"I think everybody knows that it's in our hands to perform at a high level,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos. "The question is how can we get ourselves to feel better about our game to perform better. That's the real challenge.
"We're trying different things. It would be nice if we could stabilize our lineup. It's been out of our control because of injuries. At the same time, we try to manage distractions and not get worked up over them.''
GETTING HEALTHY: It appears that MSU will get two injured players back this week. Sophomore forward Brent Darnell missed the PSU series with a head injury and freshman forward David Bondra has not played in the last five games because of an upper body injury.
Anastos said Darnell was cleared to play on Saturday but the Spartan coach elected to hold him out one more game because he had not practiced since Monday.
"It's a head injury. I think you have to be safe,'' Anastos said. "He played on Tuesday (when the injury occurred) but didn't have a lot of shifts. It's important to get him 100 percent and have time to practice.
"Bondra thinks he can play, too. But he hasn't had any contact in a while.''
FERRANTINO MAKES IMPACT: Freshman forward Michael Ferrantino had his most productive weekend of the season with a goal against PSU on Friday and assists on MSU's two goals on Saturday.
Ferrantino, playing mostly on the third or fourth lines, has two goals and six assists for eight points in 26 games. He had an assist in a 4-1 victory over Notre Dame on Jan. 12, giving him four points in his last five games.
"He did some good things. He's a smart player, with good hands, and we're working with him on his skating so he can be more dynamic,'' Anastos said. "He's smart, plays hard and had a nice goal on Friday night. That line, with Forfar and Hayes, did a good job.''
TOUGH TIMES: The last time both Michigan State and Michigan entered February eight or more games under .500 was in 1978-79.
The Spartans, in Amo Bessone's last season as coach, were 9-17 and eventually finished 15-21-0 overall and tied for 8th place in the 10-team WCHA.
The Wolverines, coached by Dan Farrell, ended January with an 8-18 record and ended the season 8-27-1 and 10th (last) in the WCHA.
U-M's NCAA record of 22 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament is in jeopardy. To extend the streak, it appears that the Wolverines will have to win the CCHA Tournament and automatically qualify for the NCAAs as the playoff champion.
BIG NIGHT FOR KRUG: Former Spartan All-America defenseman Torey Krug had the biggest game of his pro career on Friday as a member of the Providence Bruins, the Boston Bruins' farm team in the American Hockey League.
Krug, a Spartan from 2009-2012, had two power-play goals and one assist in a 6-1 victory over the Portland Pirates. He had an assist on Saturday in a 4-3 shootout win over Worcester.
In 32 games this season, Krug has five goals and seven assists for 12 points. Although Krug is expected to play most of the season in Providence, there's a good chance he might get called up to the NHL Bruins in case of an injury.
12 SPARTANS THE NHL: Twelve former MSU players are on the rosters of nine NHL teams.
The other seven:
Booth suffered a groin injury the week before the season started. He's expected to be out four-to-six weeks.