>Spartans, Lay Down Your Arms
Okay, so maybe that reference is a bit of a stretch. Off to a hot start at 3-1-0, the Michigan State Spartans will look to plunder 6 points from Miami this weekend, but the MSU team that the RedHawks will host for the beginning of conference play is, at least through the first two weeks of the season, vastly different than last year’s platoon.
Last season was atypical in every way for Rick Comely’s program. A slew of injuries and several off the ice issues led to a poor on ice performance and an embarrassing season for one of the nation’s more respectable programs. The Spartans were near to last in several NCAA categories, including offense (1.63 goals per game, 57th/58 NCAA teams), defense (3.21 goals allowed, 46th/58), and power play percentage (11.0 %, 55th/58). Just two years removed from a Division-1 NCAA Championship, Michigan State finished 10th in the CCHA (after being picked to finish 3rd in the pre-season coaches’ poll), with a 10-23-5 overall record, the school’s worst showing since the 1977-1978 season, when the team finished 7-27-2 under legendary head coach Amo Bessone. They weren’t even in the CCHA yet.
But that was then and this is now.
Gone from the program is diminutive goaltender Jeff Lerg, an outstanding netminder who owns more awards and records than Snoop Dogg. The pipes now belong to Drew Palmasino, a sophomore with a 2-1 record and a 2.61 GAA coming into this weekend’s action. Also gone is last season’s leading scorer, Matt Schepke, a winger that tallied 24 points for the Green & White last year. He was the only Spartan to hit the double-digit mark in goals (14) and one of two in assists (10). Sophomore Daultan Leveille, a highly regarded Atlanta Thrashers’ prospect who was second in scoring last season, is back too. MSU also has a solid crop of freshmen, including Dean Chelios, son of NHL great and current Chicago Wolf, Chris Chelios.
Expect the firepower this weekend from MSU, too. Junior Corey Tropp and freshman Derek Grant rank first and fourth respectively in NCAA scoring. Tropp has 5 goals, 4 assists for a total of 9 points in the first four games and Grant has 2 goals, 5 assists for points through the first two weekends. Yikes. The Spartans are tied for third in the country in team offense (scoring 4.50 goals per game) and own the nation’s second best power play at 28.6%.
Miami (3-0-1) has won six of the last eight meetings with the Spartans (including three of four last season), but still trails 66-25-5 in the all-time series. With a great MSU power play and a superb Miami penalty kill, special teams will be where the game is won or lost and will play large this weekend. All signs point to two exciting matchups at the Cady, starting Friday night at 7:05pm, with Saturday night’s action beginning at 8:05pm.
Both games will be televised by ONN, with “Diamond” Dave Allen and Neil Sika calling the action. Saturday night’s contest will also be televised by Comcast Local.