Feb 12, 2012

Spartan Hockey Split with Wolverines Makes Road Tougher

Photo from NCAA.com

By Sean Gagnier

The game at Munn Ice Arena on Friday night was ripped right out the history books of the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry. Momentum swung both ways and the intensity was ratcheted up. After two early goals by the Wolverines, Michigan State roared back, lead by captain Torey Krug to claim a 3-2 victory. However, the Spartans were unable to maintain that momentum and fell in overtime to Michigan on Saturday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

Things in the CCHA are tight, after beating Michigan on Friday the Spartans jumped to third place in the standings only to see themselves slide right back to a tie for fifth with the Lake Superior State Lakers. But Michigan State isn't concerned with the CCHA right now, they are looking at their chances to get in the NCAA tournament - and those chances are slim.

It would have been a tough road to begin with, but a sweep of the No. 4 ranked team would have done wonders for the No. 16 ranked Spartans chances of making the NCAA's. However, they were unable to attain that sweep and now face the prospect of having to make up ground against the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Notre Dame. Not two opponents you want to face when you need to make up ground quickly.

The Spartans play host to the Alaska Nanooks at Munn Ice Arena this weekend and appear to need a sweep to keep themselves in the hunt for the NCAA's. Michigan State shouldn't look too sadly at the road ahead of them, the Nanooks are in a down season and are perfect candidates to be swept out of Munn - but as any hockey fan knows it's very difficult to sweep any team.

Alaska is having one of the worst seasons they've had in quite some time, but they play well in East Lansing and the Spartans have struggled to beat weaker teams this season. They play to the level of their opponent instead of to their highest level - a remnant of the Comley era in East Lansing. Coach Tom Anastos should have his Spartans revved up and ready to give it their all this weekend, he knows the stakes and he has driven consistency into his players heads all season long. Michigan State has posted a 7-2-1 record against top ten opponents this season, proving that the Spartans are capable of playing with the top opponents in the country.

Michigan State players have been treated to signage along their bench with an odd logo on it. To the outside viewer it may not be discernible but the logos, two number "100"'s atop each other and sitting beside a "%" sign. But Anastos and his players understand what it means and they have begun to play like they believe it. The logo means, "100 percent, 100 percent of the time."

That's exactly what the Spartans will need when they step onto the ice in South Bend, Ind. next weekend. Notre Dame is a tough opponent for the Spartans to finish out the season with, but with the way the Spartans have been playing of late they should be able to take at least one game in the series if not at least one point. A win over the Irish late in the season would do wonders for the Spartans chances to make it into the NCAA tournament.

While the road may not be an easy one, it is one that the Spartans can navigate without too much stress. Look for the green and white in the NCAA tournament if they can manage to pull through this last stretch of the season.

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