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Michigan State hockey preparing for huge series with No. 15 Michigan

There will be fireworks this weekend.

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Michigan State hockey
© Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan State hockey is preparing for one of its biggest matchups of the year in a two-game series with No. 15 Michigan.

Michigan State hockey will be taking on its biggest rival this weekend. The Spartans (15-4-3) will head into a home and home series with the Wolverines (10-7-3) in their first pair of games this year. The first game will be at Munn Arena on Friday night. The second game will be at Yost Ice Arena on Saturday.

The Spartans are looking to build off of a big sweep against a ranked Penn State team last weekend.

Michigan State beat the Nittany Lions on Friday 5-0 and 7-3 on Saturday. Michigan is also coming off of a series sweep against Stonehill College.

Recent history

The Spartans are looking to snap a three-game losing streak against the Wolverines going back to last season. MSU won the first game of the series last year at Munn 2-1, but did not win another game against their arch rivals. This included a 4-3 overtime loss in the “Duel in the D”.

Michigan has the overall lead in the rivalry series (179-139-24), but this year’s Spartan team is looking to make this rivalry much more competitive than it has been over the past few years. The biggest difference now is that for the first time in years, Michigan State is coming into this matchup as the favorite. That is thanks to excellent coaching by second-year head coach Adam Nightingale and excellent recruiting.

Since the Spartans and Wolverines last played, MSU has added players like Trey Augustine, Red Savage, Isaac Howard, and Artyom Levshunov. Meanwhile, the Wolverines lost some big name talent in the form of Luke Hughes (New Jersey Devils) and Adam Fantilli (Columbus Blue Jackets) to the NHL.

Michigan players to watch

  • Gavin Brindley, Forward

Brindley, a sophomore, had a very impressive series against Stonehill College last weekend. He was a 2023 second-round pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets, was coming back from winning a gold medal at the World Juniors with the Spartan’s Isaac Howard and Trey Augustine. In the first game against Stonehill, he scored four goals in a 12-4 win for the Wolverines. He also added another goal and two assists. This was enough for him to win Big Ten’s 1st Star of the Week. If the Spartans are going to be successful this weekend, they are going to need to watch Brindley closely and hope that last week was just an explosion against a much weaker opponent. So far this season, he has 15 goals and 10 assists for 25 points.

  • Seamus Casey, Defenseman

It is not too often that you find a defenseman leading his team in points. That is exactly what is happening right now with Casey. He has been driving offense for this Wolverine offense on the second pairing with Tyler Duke. Last weekend against Stonehill, he added five assists to his total points. The 2022 second-round pick by the New Jersey Devils is having an incredible season. While he is not putting the puck in the net, he is racking up assists. Michigan State hockey is going to need to limit his strong playmaking abilities if they want to win this series. Casey has scored four goals this season for the Wolverines and has helped on 24, for a total of 28 points.

  • T.J. Hughes, Center

No, this is not another Hughes brother playing for the University of Michigan. There is no relation between T.J. and the trio of brothers playing in the NHL right now. This Hughes is a solid second line center who had a good weekend against Stonehill by scoring two goals and adding two assists. The sophomore knows how much this rivalry means to each school. He showed up last year, scoring in three of the four games against the Spartans. MSU will need to hold him and his scoring at bay to take this weekend series. Hughes so far this year has scored 11 goals and 16 assists for a total of 27 points.

Michigan State players to watch

  • Trey Augustine, Goalie

Trey Augustine has been lights out this season. The second-round pick by the Detroit Red Wings in 2023 is only getting better. He has not only been the Spartans’ best goalie, he has been one of the best in all of college hockey this year. Augustine was recently listed on the watchlist for the Mike Richter Award, which goes to the best goalie in the nation. Going into this game, I am looking for Augustine to continue he success from last weekend. He proved in the World Juniors that he can remain calm and perform when the stakes are higher. Going into two important rivalry games, look for Augustine to shut down the Wolverine offense and keep it close. In 19 games, he is posting a record of 13-3-2, a save percentage of .919, and a goals against average of 2.81.

  • Joey Larson, Forward

Joey Larson is looking to continue his offensive onslaught this weekend against the Wolverines. Last weekend, he scored three goals and added an assist. He has only been held without a point in one series this season. Larson will be looking to continue building his amazing chemistry with linemates Gavin O’Connell and Red Savage. That line got 10 points last weekend. I’m expecting that Larson turns up the intensity and shows the Wolverines why he is one of the highest scoring forwards in college hockey right now. His strengths lie not only in 5-on-5 play, but also on the power play where he can be a great trigger man. On the season, Larson has 14 goals and 12 assists to total a team-leading, 26 points.

  • Isaac Howard, Forward

After having such a strong World Juniors tournament, Isaac Howard was quiet last weekend. The Tampa Bay Lightning selection, was not able to make it on to the scoresheet in either of the games, his first two back since winning gold with Team USA. He also struggled in the +/- department with a -1 rating in the series. I’m looking for Howard to have a bounce-back weekend to get himself going. I think that a successful weekend for him will involve getting himself a positive +/- and registering at least a point. When the lights get brighter, I’s confident that he will come through for Michigan State hockey.

Expectations

As with any good rivalry, expect this series to be hard fought and gritty. I think this weekend the defenses are going to be standing strong and keeping these games close. Most of the games in this rivalry last year were one-goal affairs, the most dramatic being Michigan’s 4-3 overtime winner at Little Caesars Arena. MSU is a much better team than it was last year and Michigan has lost some high-end talent. Both of these schools know the stakes of these games, though.

Expect a pair of great games to kick off the season series in the best rivalry in college hockey.

The Friday game will be at Munn with puck drop of 7 p.m. ET and the next night the teams will meet in Ann Arbor at Yost at 7 p.m.

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