EAST LANSING, Mich. — Happy Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday from Michigan.
There’s only one way to spend this American holiday in this state and that’s with the Detroit Lions. Amazingly, the Lions won this game and everyone went to grab their turkey in a good mood.
Now, I’m in East Lansing, where UND will meet Michigan State at 6:05 p.m. Central tonight. It will be the first meeting between these two teams in this city since 1980. The Spartans were in the WCHA back then.
North Dakota has a few connections to this place, though.
Goalie Cam Johnson, who could see his first start since Oct. 16, is from Troy. Freshman defenseman Christian Wolanin is from Rochester. Both Troy and Rochester are northern suburbs of Detroit.
Wolanin wasn’t shy in pointing out that none of the Michigan schools were interested in him, and he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about it. He’s rather fired up for this weekend’s series, as you could imagine.
Matt Greene is from nearby Grand Ledge, and his parents, Jim and Darcy, work at Michigan State University. Matt’s dream school was Michigan State, but he had his scholarship offer pulled when the Spartans transitioned to a new coaching staff. So, he ended up at UND and it worked out just fine for Greene and North Dakota.
In the 10 years since Matt signed with Edmonton, Jim and Darcy have been popped up at UND games here and there. They have traveled to Houghton to watch UND a couple of times, and that’s no short drive. Houghton is about eight hours away. So expect to see them around the rinks this weekend.
Josh Morton, the former executive of the UND Champions Club and former UND quarterback, now has a similar position at Michigan State. He said he’ll be at morning skate today to say hi to the team.
And more recently, former UND captain Dillon Simpson played at UND, while his father, Craig played for the Spartans.
This weekend’s series is a rare Friday-Sunday matchup. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first Friday-Sunday series since Dec. 2010 in Mankato. The Saturday game was postponed until Sunday because of a blizzard.
This weekend, the finale is Sunday because Michigan State hosts Penn State in football on Saturday afternoon (2:30 p.m. Central). Coach Brad Berry said the option to go to the game is there for the team, but he hasn’t fully decided yet if they’ll go. He says they have some business to attend to.
The above link lists a few questions that have to be answered for UND this weekend — scoring depth and goaltending.
I had a chance to watch Michigan State twice at the Ice Breaker Invitational in Maine and I saw a third game on television this season.
Here’s what you need to know about the Spartans:
- Goalie Jake Hildebrand is the reigning Big Ten MVP. He probably could have left school after this season, but didn’t. He can steal games.
- I don’t know if it’s a 100 percent done deal that Hildebrand will start both games. He was pulled in his last start a week ago and sophomore Ed Minney, who played at the NTDP, stopped 34 of 36 shots in his first-career action.
- Michigan State’s top skill players like J.T. Stenglein, Mackenzie MacEachern and freshman Mason Appleton were very good in the Ice Breaker. When they were on the power play, the Spartans moved the puck a lot.
- UND seemingly should have an advantage with depth. Michigan State’s lower lines were average, and this is where UND’s depth players need to be able to create momentum and score a little more.
In East Lansing, the Spartans seem excited about this nonconference matchup between traditional powers.
My three keys to this series:
1. Get two goals per game when the top line is not on the ice. Yes, this may be asking a lot, but I think UND is capable and it would be huge.
2. Stay out of the box. UND wants to play a possession game, but that can’t happen when you’re shorthanded. UND has allowed its opponents to have five power plays in four of the last five games. That’s a tad too many. Lower that number and you’ll lower Michigan State’s scoring chances.
3. Let Poolman bomb away from the point. Tucker Poolman has a tremendous shot, and the more he can get it off on the power play, the higher the chance of a goal — whether he scores himself or if the goalie can’t control a rebound.
This weekend’s picks…
UND at Michigan State: The Spartans have the advantage in net with a league MVP, but I like UND in all of the other spots (except maybe faceoffs, where MSU is .520 and UND is .502). UND 5-3, 2-1.
Belfast, Northern Ireland: Yep, we have four college hockey teams playing overseas this weekend. Should be an awesome, memorable experience for all involved. Especially UMass-Lowell, since I’m predicting the River Hawks to win the tourney that also features Brown, Northeastern and Colgate.
Colorado College vs. Air Force: Finally, the Tigers’ nightmare (and 15-game losing streak dating back to last season) should come to an end. CC 4-2, 2-2.
St. Cloud State at Minnesota: The Huskies are skilled, veteran and will be fired up for this series in Mariucci Arena. St. Cloud State 3-2, 4-1.
UND at Syracuse: The Orange were picked to win the CHA this season, so it won’t be an easy matchup. The returning players know that first-hand as they lost to the Orange last season and it may have cost UND a spot in the national tournament. UND 1-1, 3-1.
All right – I need to sleep off some more of the turkey hangover.