Neil’s Notebook: Spartans to Test Unblemished Home Record Against No. 7 Wisconsin
Neil Koepke previews this weekend’s home series against Wisconsin.
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
EAST LANSING – Home ice has been very good for Michigan State this season, with four straight victories at Munn Arena.
On the road? Well, not so much.
The Spartans haven’t been bad on enemy ice, but just not good enough to snag a win from the likes of Bowling Green, Western Michigan and No. 4 Minnesota.
This weekend, it’s back to Munn Arena, where MSU has scored 19 goals in four games, and has been helped by the energy from crowd in some exciting, well-played victories.
But the Spartans are faced with their toughest home challenge of the early season as Wisconsin comes to town with a group of skilled forwards, a solid defensive and a standout goaltender.
The Spartans (4-4, 2-2 Big Ten) and Badgers (6-4-1, 1-1) collide at 7 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday at Munn Arena.
Both teams are eager to end winless streaks. Wisconsin is 0-2-1 in its last three games, including a 3-2 loss and 2-2 tie last weekend at home North Dakota, now ranked No. 2.
Michigan State is coming off two losses against Minnesota, 3-1 and 4-0, in Minneapolis.
“It’s great and really cool that we’re 4-0 at home, but it’s disappointing that we’re 0-4 away from home,’’ freshman defenseman Tommy Miller said. “We want to make it 6-0 at home this weekend and then 7-0 next week against Ferris State and the get a road win at Ferris.’’
The Spartans follow their Big Ten series against the Badgers with two non-conference games – vs. Ferris State at Munn Arena, Nov. 10 and at FSU on Nov. 11.
“We’re 4-4 right now and there has been a lot of good things,’’ MSU coach Danton Cole said. “The challenge with the guys is ‘let’s make as much progress over the next two months as we did the first two months, and let’s stay on that. In the Big Ten, let’s try to get points out of every weekend.’
“We’re finding out a lot about the team. I think we skate well, we defend probably better than I thought we would, including on the rush, which Minnesota was really tough on.
Other than a few turnovers and other mistakes here and there, the Spartans played well defensively against the Gophers, which boasts a group a highly skilled forwards and defensemen.
“It’s always a time and space issue and we’ve done a pretty good job closing in the defensive zone and spending more time in the offensive,’’ Cole said. “We’ve been consistently getting up over 20 minutes (of possession time) in the offensive zone, which is pretty good.’’
The Spartans did a lot of things well in Minnesota but didn’t take advantage of quality scoring chances, especially on Friday and in the third period on Saturday.
“What we didn’t do very well was finish,’’ Cole said. “And we’ve kind of known that. When you’re not blessed with 20 and 30-goal scorers, some nights are going to be like that.’’
SPARTANS POTPOURRI: Junior left wing Brennan Sanford has more points against Wisconsin than any team that he’s played against in his two-plus seasons.
Sanford has two goals and three assists for five points in eight games vs. the Badgers. That makes him MSU’s top scorer against Wisconsin.
“That’s cool. I didn’t realize that,’’ said Sanford, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound left-hand shot forward from East Lansing. “I remember I had a two-point game against them and that helps.’’
As a freshman, Sanford had a goal and an assist in a 4-3 home win over Wisconsin on Dec. 11, 2016. And he collected an assist in another 4-3 win on Feb. 19, 2016. Last season, Sanford had an assist in a 6-3 loss and a goal in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Badgers on Feb. 3-4, 2017, at Munn Arena.
The Spartans’ second career leading scorers vs. Wisconsin are sophomore center Patrick Khodorenko, who has two goals and two assists for four points in four games, and junior defenseman Zach Osburn, who has a goal and three assists in eight games.
Sophomore defenseman Mitch Eliot, who missed last weekend’s series at Minnesota with an undisclosed injury, is expected to return to the lineup this weekend.
MSU is averaging 4.75 goals per game at home this season. That ranks No. 3 in the nation.
Freshman Tommy Apap ranks 16th in the nation and fourth in the Big Ten in faceoff winning percentage at .629. Apap, 21, who’s from Bloomfield Hills, is 74-43 on faceoffs in eight games.
GLI DATES SET: The 53rd Great Lakes Invitational will be played Jan. 1-2 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. The GLI was usually played on back-to-back days from Dec. 26-30. But with the Pistons making their home at LCA this season, along with the Red Wings and other events, Olympia officials had to move the dates to the first two days of 2018.
The Spartans and Michigan Tech open the GLI at 2:30 p.m. on Jan. 1, with Michigan and Bowling Green playing the second game at 6 p.m.
On Jan. 2, the third-place game is set for 2:30 and the championship game is at 6 p.m.
Little Caesars Arena is the fourth venue for the GLI, which started in December, 1965
MSU-UW RIVALRY: The Spartans lead the series against the Badgers, 53-51-3. It started with 9-2 MSU victory on Dec. 11, 1964, at Demonstration Hall.
Wisconsin swept the Spartans, 4-0, last season but MSU had won six of the previous seven meetings, including going 3-1 vs. the Badgers in 2015-16 and 2014-2015. Wisconsin has won three straight games at Munn Arena.
The former WCHA rivals have played each other every season 1993-94 to 2016-17, except for two. They did not play in 2011-12 and 2012-13 – two seasons between the end of the College Hockey Showcase and the start of Big Ten play.
The College Hockey Showcase, featuring MSU and Michigan playing Wisconsin and Minnesota on Thanksgiving weekend, lasted for 18 seasons. The Spartans went 10-7-1 against the Badgers in The Showcase.
SCOUTING THE BADGERS: Wisconsin has already played 11 games this season – more than anyone in the nation except Michigan Tech, which has also played 10 - and is 6-4-1 record and is 1-1 in the Big Ten. The Badgers started the season with a 3-2 won over Michigan Tech Oct. 1, then split a Big Ten series with Ohio State, losing 3-2 and winning 4-2.
Wisconsin then went on the road to Boston and came away with two victories – 5-1 at Boston College and 4-1 at Merrimack. The Badgers split the next two series vs. Northern Michigan (5-4 loss in OT, 4-0 win) and St. Lawrence (4-2 win, 6-2 loss).
And last weekend, Wisconsin lost 3-2 and tied 2-2 in a non-conference series in Madison.
The Badgers have two elite players in sophomore center Trent Frederic and senior goalie Kyle Hayton, a graduate transfer who played at St. Lawrence the last three seasons and was a NCAA East Second Team All-American last year.
Frederick, a 6-foot-3, 215-pounder from St. Louis, is a first-round draft pick (29th overall) by the Boston Bruins in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He was selected as Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2016-17 after scoring 15 goals and picking up 18 assists for 33 points in 30 games.
Frederick played for MSU coach Danton Cole at the U.S. National Team Development Program’s U-17 and U-18 teams in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
“He’s an outstanding player. He’s a big kid with tons of skill and was a good leader for us,’’ Cole said. “He scored 20 goals the second year (with the NTDP).
“He’s a first-rounder to Boston and has kept adding to his game, to his repertoire. He’s good on the penalty kill, good on faceoffs and is really a good young man.
“That’s a matchup issue when you have a guy 6-foot-3 and skates like he does. We’re going to need three or four of our centermen doing a great job against them. They’re going to throw a few lines against us that are pretty good.’’
Frederic has five goals and five assists for 10 points in 11 games and shares the team scoring lead with junior Will Johnson, who has three goals and seven assists. Ryan Wagner, a senior who also played for Cole with the NTDP, is third with nine points (5-4-9).
Hayton, 23, a 6-foot, 165-pounder from Denver, has a 5-3-1 record, a 2.45 goals-against average and a .907 saves percentage. Last season at St. Lawrence, Hayton had compiled a 16-12-7 record, a 2.28 GAA and a .929 saves percentage.
The Badgers have good balance up front with junior Seamus Malone (4-3-7), senior Cameron Hughes (3-3-6), freshmen Tarek Baker (4-2-6) and Linus Weissbach (3-2-5).
The defense is experienced, led by seniors Peter Tischke (0-6-6), Tim Davidson (1-3-4), Jake Linhart (0-4-4), and promising freshmen Wyatt Kalynuk (0-5-5) and Tyler Inamoto (0-2-2), who is fresh off a two-year stint with the U.S. NTDP’s U-17 and U-18 teams.
Two years ago, Wisconsin had one of its worst seasons in history with records of 8-19-8 overall and 3-13-4 (6th) in the Big Ten.
After Tony Granato replaced Mike Eaves as coach, the Badgers had an excellent season in 2016-17 with a second-place finish in the Big Ten, and they came within one win in the conference tournament of earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin last season finished with records of 20-15-1 overall and 12-8 in the Big Ten.
“They’re building on what they did last year and they’re better at some things,’’ Cole said. “I think their defense is more controlled and they’re playing the way (the coaches) want to play.
“They had a lot of young guys last year and now they’re a year older. They’re good up and down the lineup, and then when you add an All-American goalie (that’s good for them.)’’
MISSING COACH: Tony Granato, in his second season as Badgers coach, won’t be behind the bench this weekend. Granato is with the U.S. Men’s Olympic Team coach and he’ll be coaching a team of U.S. players, mainly playing for European teams, in the Deutschland Cup in Augsburg, Germany. Granato and USA Hockey officials will be evaluating players for spots on the 2018 U.S. Olympic team.
The U.S. Deutschland Cup team includes former Spartan Jim Slater, who plays in Switzerland.
Granato left Sunday for Europe and won’t return until Tuesday. So assistant coaches Mark Osiecki and Mark Strobel will handle the team this weekend. Osiecki coached in the United States Hockey League with Green Bay and spent three seasons as head coach at Ohio State.
Strobel, who played at Wisconsin from 1991-95, spent the last two seasons as an assistant at Ohio State, before joining the Wisconsin staff in the spring.
MSU coach Danton Cole doesn’t think Granato’s absence will have a big impact on the weekend series with the Spartans.
“I don’t think it’ll matter. Oz (Osiecki) has been there and he’s a good coach. I think they’ll be fine,’’ Cole said. “Culturally, they’ve instilled a good base in how they want to do things.’’
Granato will also miss a few Badgers games during the Winter Olympics, Feb. 14-25, in South Korea.
SMALL BADGER, BIG HEART: Wisconsin freshman forward Sean Dhooghe is likely the smallest player in college hockey at 5-foot-4 and 150 pounds. But he’s a hard-working, dynamic player who makes good plays with the puck and is elusive. He’s rapidly becoming a fan favorite in Madison.
Dhooghe played for the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor and Plymouth for the last two years, and while he didn’t play for Danton Cole, the Spartan coach knows him well.
“He plays a lot bigger than his size. He can make plays and skates well, and he’s good with the puck and goes to the hard spots for a guy who isn’t big,’’ Cole said. “He scored a lot of goals for the U-18 team and I think he scored the game-winning goal in the gold medal game.
“He plays hard and I’ll tell our guys, don’t underestimate him.’’
MSU freshman defenseman was teammates with Dhooghe and freshman defenseman Tyler Inamoto with the U-18 team last season.
“I was pretty close with Inamoto and Dhooghe, as well. When you see Dhooghe out there, he’s such a small player that it’s kind of funny. He looks like a little kid,’’ Miller said.
“But he was one of the hardest forwards to defend against in practice. You’re defending him, forcing him and ‘bam,’ he goes the other way, right around you.’’
Dhooghe, 18, scored his first goal as a Badger last Saturday on a penalty shot late in the first period of the Badgers’ 2-2 tie against North Dakota. He has one goal and two assists in 11 games.
Dhooghe’s brother, Jason, 20, is also a member of the Badgers. He’s a 5-7, 165-pound forward who has one goal in three games. The Dhooghe’s brothers are from Aurora Ill.
TEAMMATES TO RIVALS: In addition to the Tommy Miller connection to the Badgers’ Tyler Inamoto and Sean Dhooghe, there’s other Spartans and Badgers who were teammates in junior hockey or with the NTDP.
Wisconsin sophomore center Trent Frederick and sophomore defenseman JD Greenway and MSU sophomore center Patrick Khodorenko played on the same U-17 and U-18 teams, coached by Danton Cole, three and two years ago.
Meanwhile, Badgers freshman defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk and freshman forward Tarek Baker were teammates with MSU sophomores Logan Lambdin and Butrus Ghafari on the Bloomington Thunder of the USHL in 2015-16. In fact, Baker and Lambdin were No. 1 and 3 in scoring for the Thunder – Baker with 20 goals and 49 points and Lambdin with 28 goals and 47 points.
IN THE BIG TEN: Six of the seven Big Ten teams are involved in conference play this weekend with Ohio State playing a non-league series. All games are Friday and Saturday.
In addition to MSU-Wisconsin, No. 4 Minnesota (7-3, 3-1 Big Ten) plays at Michigan (5-3, 1-1) and No. 6 Notre Dame (6-3-1, 2-0) is home against No. 19 Penn State (5-5, 2-2).
Meanwhile, No. 17 Ohio State (5-3-2, 1-3) steps out of conference and plays a two-game series at Connecticut (3-6-1, 2-6-1 Hockey East).
Notre Dame forward Jake Evans leads the Big Ten in scoring in overall games with four goals and 14 assists for 18 points. Penn State’s Andrew Sturtz is second with six goals and seven assists for 13 points, while Cooper Marody (3-9-12) of Michigan and Jordan Gross (4-8-12) of Notre Dame are tied for third.
MSU freshman right wing Mitchell Lewandowski is in a three-way third for second in freshman scoring in the Big Ten. Lewandowski has three goals and six assists for nine points in eight games. Minnesota’s Casey Mittelstadt (3-6-9, 9 games) and Colin Theisen (4-5-9, 10 games) of Notre Dame are tied with Lewandowski. The top rookie scorer is Cole Hults of Penn State with two goals and nine assists for 11 points in 10 games.