Neil's Notebook: Spartans Welcome Ivy League Opponent to Munn
Neil Koepke previews this weekend's series with Princeton.
Nov. 27, 2013
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
EAST LANSING - Anyone remember the last time Michigan State played Princeton in hockey?
If you were a Spartan fan in 1980 you might remember MSU and the Tigers hooking up at Munn Arena during the 1979-80 season, Ron Mason's first year as coach. The Spartans topped Princeton, 6-1, on Jan. 4, 1980, the third meeting between the teams. MSU also won the other two - 7-4 in the RPI Tournament in Troy, N.Y., on Jan. 2, 1959, and 2-1 in the Great Lakes Invitational at Olympia Stadium in Detroit on Dec. 19, 1969.
MSU (3-7) and Princeton (3-8) renew acquaintances this weekend with a two-game, nonconference series at Munn Arena - at 7 p.m. on Friday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. The Spartans have already played six teams from four conferences - Hockey East (UMass, UMass-Lowell, Boston U); Atlantic Hockey (American International), Western Collegiate Hockey Association (Michigan Tech) and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (Western Michigan).
With Princeton, MSU plays against its fifth conference in the Eastern College Athletic Conference. The Tigers are one of six Ivy League hockey schools in the ECAC.
Next week, Michigan State makes its Big Ten debut when it hosts Minnesota. That'll give the Spartans opponents from all six Division I conferences.
Since the Big Ten plays only a 20-game schedule (four games against five rivals), that leaves several non-conference games to schedule, in addition to the two games in the annual Great Lakes Invitational.
"One of the reasons we're playing Princeton is we wanted to add an Ivy League flavor to our experience,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "So, with the flexibility of our schedule with more non-conference games, I would expect some more Ivy League teams coming here and us going to play at some Ivy schools in the future.''
The Spartans' last Ivy League opponent was Harvard in the 2006 GLI semifinals. MSU won, 5-2. Their last ECAC opponent was Union in the 2012 NCAA Regional in Bridgeport Conn. MSU lost to Union, 3-1.
Last season, the Spartans played teams from three conferences (CCHA WCHA, Atlantic Hockey) and one independent (Penn State).
Senior defenseman Jake Chelios said he welcomes seeing different uniforms.
"For me, it's pretty exciting. When you get to be a senior, you get in a rut playing the same teams,'' he said of facing Princeton for the first time. "I always love playing new teams, and hockey is such a small world, you always know a couple of guys on each team, and you've probably played against a few more.
"It'll be fun to play them, but for our team, it's all about performing well and getting two wins.''
Anastos said the scheduling of Princeton this weekend involves his friendship with Bill Ford Jr., the Detroit Lions vice chairman and Ford Motor Co. executive chairman, and former Princeton coach Guy Gadowsky.
Anastos, the former CCHA commissioner, met Ford Jr. when the CCHA was the host of the 2010 Frozen Four at Ford Field in Detroit.
"I found out that Bill's son (Will) was playing hockey at Princeton and later, when I took the (MSU coaching) job, I was talking with Bill and I said that maybe we could get Princeton to come to Michigan State and his son could come back home and play in front of family and friends. He said that would be cool.
"I reached out to Guy Gadowsky and that's how the scheduling came about.'' Will Ford, who attended Ann Arbor Huron High School and played one year for the Marquette Rangers of the North American Hockey League before going to Princeton, is a senior. The 5-foot-8, 165-pound forward has been injured for much of his career. He's played in six games this season, including two last weekend in an ECAC split against then-No. 4 Quinnipiac.
Last Saturday, the Tigers rallied from a 3-1 deficit with a three-goal surge in the final 10 minutes to pull out a 4-3 victory at Quinnipiac.
"They'll come in excited about playing here,'' Anastos said. "They played a pretty defensive oriented game against Quinnipiac in the parts that I've seen and then turned the game around figured out a way to win.
"They'll be a challenge for us to play against. We've got to learn how to work through that.''
The Tigers opened the season with a 3-2 win over Dartmouth in a tournament in Newark, N.J., but then lost six in a row - mostly close defeats. After another win over Dartmouth - this time 5-4 - Princeton lost at home against Quinnipiac, 3-0, before upsetting the Bobcats.
Junior Tucker Brockett is Princeton's top scorer, with two goals and nine assists for 11 points. Senior Andrew Ammon has seven points, with a team-leading six goals. In goal, Princeton has a senior-freshman tandem. Senior Sean Bonar has played in eight games and has a 3.42 goals-against average, a .889 saves percentage and a 2-5 record. Freshman Colton Phinney has a 3.84 GAA, a .886 saves percentage and a 1-3 record.
Bob Prier, 37, is in his third season as Princeton coach, after serving nine seasons as an assistant at St. Lawrence, his alma mater. He spent one year at Princeton as an assistant in 2001-02.
WOLFE STILL ON TOP: With only one goal in two losses against Western Michigan last weekend, MSU's scoring race didn't change much. Senior right wing Greg Wolfe continues to lead the Spartans with five goals and two assists for seven points in 10 games.
Senior defenseman Jake Chelios is second with six assists and six points, followed by senior center Lee Reimer, who has two goals and three assists for five points. Four players are tied with four points - freshman Mackenzie MacEachern (4-0-4), freshman Joe Cox (2-2-4), sophomore Michael Ferrantino (2-2-4) and senior Dean Chelios (0-4-4).
Spartan defensemen are still looking for their first goal. Jake Chelios, Rhett Holland (0-3-3), RJ Boyd (0-2-2), Brock Krygier (0-2), Travis Walsh (0-2), Nickolas Gatt (0-0-0), Chris Knudson (0-0-0) and John Draeger (0-0-0) have combined for 15 assists but no goals.
SACRIFICING THE BODY: The Spartans rank fifth in the nation in blocked shots, with an average of 16.7 per game. MSU had a season-high 25 blocks last Friday against WMU. Defenseman Travis Walsh leads the team with 21 blocked shots.
CRAZY START: This week's college hockey schedule got off to a bizarre start on Tuesday when Cornell freshman goaltender Mitch Gillam scored a goal in a 4-2 win over Niagara. It was Gillam's first collegiate game.
Gillam moved left of his crease to control a loose puck and fired it down the ice into the empty net with nine seconds remaining. He's the eighth goalie in college to be credited with a goal and only the third to actually shoot the puck into the net. The first was Michigan State's Chad Alban in 1998 in a 6-3 win over Ferris State on Senior Night at Munn Arena. Western Michigan's Mike Mantua did it in 2002. BIG TEN DEBUT: After almost two months of non-conference play, the Big Ten's first season opens this weekend with two series. Wisconsin visits Minnesota on Friday and Saturday, while Michigan and Ohio State play a home-and-home series - at Michigan on Friday and at Ohio State on Monday.
The Badgers-Gophers game on Friday is on ESPNU at 5 p.m. Friday's Wolverines-Buckeyes game is on the Big Ten Network at 7 p.m. The Michigan-OSU contest on Monday is on Fox Detroit at 7 p.m.
Penn State, like MSU, doesn't begin conference play until next week when it visits Wisconsin. The Nittany Lions this weekend play a non-conference series against Union in State College, Pa.
HALL OF FAMER: Former Spartan coach Ron Mason will be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday at the Motor City Casino in Detroit. The event, which is being held in Michigan for the first time, is sold out. The 41st Hall of Fame class also includes Bill Guerin, Doug Weight, Peter Karmanos, Jr., and Cindy Curley.
The U.S. Hall of Fame was founded in 1973 and has 156 enshrined members. Former MSU coach Amo Bessone joined the Hall of Fame in 2002.