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Neil's Notebook: Spartans and Bulldogs Ready To Tangle

Nov. 9, 2016

By Neil Koepke staff writer

EAST LANSING -- Seniors Joe Cox and Rhett Holland have played in four games against Ferris State in their three seasons at Michigan State.

The Spartans are 2-2 in those games, losing 2-0 in December, 2013, and 1-0 in October, 2014, and winning 4-1 in November, 2014, and 2-0 in December, 2014.

What Cox and Holland learned from those games and in digesting the history of the rivalry, they're not putting much stock in the Bulldogs' 2-8-1 record at this point of the season.

They don't expect to see a team that is struggling when Ferris State and Michigan State meet in a non-conference series at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Munn Arena and at 7 p.m. on Saturday in Big Rapids.

"They play a lot like Michigan Tech. They play hard, they swarm the puck and they'll be in your face the whole game,'' said Cox, MSU's senior captain and right wing. "Like last weekend, it'll be pretty physical.

"In the time I've played them, Michigan Tech and Lake Superior State, they're like mirror-images of each other.''

Despite their tough start, the Bulldogs have won two of their last three games -- a 4-3 victory at Mankato State on Oct. 29 and a 3-1 win at Bowling Green last Saturday.

Their losses are against Alabama-Huntsville (2), Western Michigan (2), Michigan, Northern Michigan, Minnesota State and BGSU, with a tie against NMU.

"They like to pack the house the house (in front of the net) in the defensive zone, they kind of cluster everything and make it hard to get the puck to the net,'' Cox said. "There will be less shots on net, and they try to break out, get one or two good opportunities and capitalize on them.''

Holland, a defenseman, sat out all but the first three games of his freshman season in 2013-14 due to an injury, but he was part of that team that went 1-3 against Ferris State.



"They play a very good team game. Every time we've played them, they've been very simple, they're physical and it always seems to be a low-scoring game,'' Holland said. "They've always had a good goalie and so have we. It could be another goalie battle this weekend.

"They don't take a lot of risks. They kind of sit back and wait for us to make mistakes and try to capitalize. We have to be patient and not get antsy and take risks because we're not scoring.

"These are big games on their schedule. It's the big school-small school type of rivalry. We have to take them seriously because we they'll be ready to play.''

A year ago, the Bulldogs went 20-15-6 overall and won the WCHA playoff championship with victories over Michigan Tech and Mankato State in the WCHA Final Five and earned an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Ferris State upset St. Cloud 5-4 in overtime in the NCAA Regional semifinals, but fell to eventual-NCAA runner-up Denver 6-3 in the regional final.

Although four of their top five scorers return (Gerald Mayhew, Corey Mackin, Chris McDonald and Andrew Dorantes,) the Bulldogs lost a several key forwards and three impact defensemen from last year.

Nine freshmen have played for the Bulldogs, including top scorer Craig Pelfrey (2 goals, 9 assists, 11 points), and defensemen Joe Rutkowski (0-5-5) and Cameron Clarke (0-2), a Boston Bruins draft pick and the only NHL drafted player on the team.

In goal, sophomore Darren Smith has played in nine games, he's 0-8-0, with a 3.63 goals-against average and an .885 saves percentage.

Freshman Justin Kapelmaster has started both games that FSU won. He's 2-0 with a 1.66 GAA and a .938 saves percentage.

Coach Bob Daniels, a 1982 MSU graduate, is in his 25th season as Ferris State coach. In 2011-12, the Bulldogs went 26-15-5, finished first in the CCHA, made the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the Frozen Four championship game and lost to Boston College, 4-1, in Tampa.

"Ferris State has always played Michigan State tough, even going back to when I played here (1981-85)," MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "This is always a big rivalry game for them -- a big-school vs. small school.

"They play hard, and in recent times in the Bob Daniels era in particular, they've built an identity as to who they are and they've been very successful. They play with good tempo and pace, usually have a strong goaltender and play well around their goaltender.

"Their team is not off to the start they expected. But in trying to find confidence and momentum, what a better way of going into more of their WCHA schedule than to play a Big Ten team like Michigan State. We have a lot of respect for Ferris State. They play hard.''

THE RIVALRY: Michigan State holds 70-26-15 edge in the series which started with a 6-3 FSU victory on Dec. 7, 1979, at Munn Arena. Over the last five seasons, the Bulldogs are 7-3 against the Spartans.

In the last five games at Munn Arena, MSU is 2-3 vs. the Bulldogs. FSU is 5-0 in the last five games in Big Rapids.

UPBEAT, ENCOURAGED: Despite the disappointment over their 5-1 loss to Michigan Tech last Saturday and their 2-5 record, Spartans' coaches and players are encouraged about what they believe is consistent improvement in every practice and every game.

"It's pretty cool to watch,'' senior defenseman Rhett Holland said. "I've never been on a team where you can see every week a dramatic improvement as a team and with individual players.

"We're getting better every day and that's a positive. Hopefully, we can continue to build on that this whole season.''

Joe Cox, MSU senior right wing and captain, agrees with Holland.

"Every week we've gotten better in practice and we're playing better in games,'' he said. "This week, we have to work on the little things we did wrong last Saturday and sharpen our game.''

Coach Tom Anastos said he's excited about watching his team make consistent strides.

"We're making progress every day. I'm seeing the confidence level of guys rise, and obviously have a growing amount of success would help feed that,'' he said. "I'm seeing it in the structure of our game and in individual performances. There's a lot to like.

"I think we're playing faster than we have played here in some time. I think our skill level is higher and I expected that. We're settling in to what the expectations are a bit. There's a lot of up and down hockey to go as we gain experience.

"I'm encouraged by it, and it's fun coming to the rink every day.''

INJURY UPDATE: Two key Spartans -- sophomore right wing Mason Appleton and red-shirt freshman defenseman Jerad Rosburg -- are recovering from injuries that could keep them out of one or both games of the Ferris State series.

Appleton suffered a shoulder injury in the first minute or two of Saturday's game against Michigan Tech and never returned. Rosburg suffered an upper body injury against Princeton on Oct. 28 and he missed both games last weekend.

Both players skated in practice on Tuesday but did not engage in contact.

"I don't know if Appleton will play this weekend or whether Rosburg will play," Anastos said. "We're taking it one day at a time. We may not know until Thursday morning.''

KHODORENKO RISING: Freshman center Patrick Khodorenko may not have made the splash that his linemates, Mason Appleton and Taro Hirose, have made, or have their statistics, but Coach Tom Anastos is impressed with Khodorenko's impact.

"He's always been elevating his game from week one to now. He's grown a lot,'' Anastos said. "He's one of the youngest kids in college hockey. I think between now and the end of the season, you'll see huge growth in his game.''

Khodorenko, a 6-foot-2, 207-pounder from Walnut Creek, California, turned 18-years-old on Oct 13. He spent the last two years playing for the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor.

"He's a strong kid, he's really into playing the game, he's a quick study and highly skilled. In Monday's practice, he made some plays that had us all smiling,'' Anastos said.

"I've seen him play at the youth level, and he wasn't coming here with the highest level of confidence. But we think it's a matter of time that he gets his confidence to where it ultimately will be.''

Khodorenko has one goal and two assists for three points in seven games. His goal came on a power play against Denver on Oct. 21, in a 2-1 loss to the Pioneers.

Appleton is MSU's top scorer with three goals and five assists for eight points. Hirose is second with six points (2-4). Khodorenko's 15 shots on goal in third on the team, behind defenseman Zach Osburn's 24 and Appleton's 16

"Much like Taro and Mason, he makes players around him much better," Anastos said. "He's able to distribute the puck and he has a hard shot. I'd like to see him shoot more.

"He's a powerful skater. I'd like him to continue to use that and work on explosiveness. He's going to be an impactful player.''

CELEBRATING 1966: When the Spartans take the ice on Thursday night, they'll be wearing the same style of green uniform that Michigan State's 1966 team wore en route to the NCAA championship.

The 1966 team will be honored with a 50-year anniversary celebration of their national hockey title, the first of three for MSU. The team will be introduced between the second and third periods.

The '66 Spartans will join the 2016-17 team at its team dinner on Friday evening and will be introduced at the MSU-Rutgers football game on Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

Team members returning for the weekend include:

Gaye Cooley, Jerry Fisher, Larry Roche, Mike Jacobsen, Mike Coppo, Tom Mikkola, Sandy McAndrew, Doug French, Don Heaphy, Jerry Fisher, Richard Bois, Bob Brawley, Nino Cristofoli, Tom Crowley, Willie Faunt, Bob Fallat, Larry Roche, John Schuster, Matt Mulcahy, Dainis Vedejs and trainer Clyde Stretch and John Bessone, the son of Spartans coach Amo Bessone, who passed away in 2010.

The Spartans defeated Boston University 2-1 in the semifinals and Clarkson 6-1 in the title game in the 1966 Final Four in Minneapolis.

IN THE BIG TEN: No. 18 Michigan plays host to No. 4 Boston University in one of the top series in college hockey this weekend. The teams play on Friday and Saturday.

No. 14 Ohio State is home against Connecticut and Alaska Anchorage is at No. 12 Penn State. Both series are on Friday and Saturday. No. 8 Minnesota and Wisconsin are idle.

Meanwhile, the top two scorers in the Big Ten are freshmen.

Penn State's Denis Smirnov leads with five goals and 10 assists for 15 points while Ohio State rookie Tanner Laczynski is second with three goals and nine assists for 12 points.

Matthew Weis, a junior forward from Ohio State, is third with five goals and six assists for 11 points.

The top goal scorers are OSU senior Nick Schilkey and sophomore Andrew Sturtz, with eight apiece.

Penn State freshman goaltender Peyton Jones has the lowest goals-against average at 1.95.

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