Previewing men’s hockey match up with Air Force


The MSU hockey team huddles together before a game/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Cameron McClarren, Hockey Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING — The Michigan State Spartans will begin their 2021-22 regular season schedule this weekend when they host the Air Force Falcons at Munn Ice Arena. It will be the first time with fans in attendance, since the shutdown 594 days ago. 

Michigan State is coming off a 3-0 exhibition loss to the U.S. National Team Development Program U-18’s last weekend in Plymouth, Michigan. The game featured the Spartan debuts for three of the four new transfers: Griffin Loughran (Northern Michigan), Erik Middendorf (Colorado College), and Jeremy Davidson (UMASS). Loughran and Middendorf were paired with junior Josh Nodler on the first line, while Davidson was the right winger on the second line that featured 5th-year senior Mitchell Lewandowski and sophomore Kristof Papp. 

After allowing one goal in the first period against the U-18’s, senior goaltender Drew DeRidder was put under pressure early in the second frame. Cruz Lucius and Cutter Gauthier scored 25 seconds apart in the first three minutes of the second period. To give the U.S. a 3-0 lead, putting the game out of reach for the Spartans. DeRidder finished his half of the game allowing three goals on 12 shots, while sophomore Pierce Charleson came in and stopped all 12 shots he faced in 30 minutes of game time. 

MSU forward Jagger Joshua lays out a Notre Dame hockey player/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Air Force is coming off a 2-1 exhibition victory over Colorado College last Saturday. Senior goaltender Alex Schilling finished with 29 saves on 30 shots, and sophomore’s Parker Brown and Jacob Marti were the lone goal scorers for the Falcons in their comeback win. The Falcons were outshot 25-30 and took five penalties in the win, but the stellar play of Schilling kept Colorado College at bay. 

The Falcons finished the 2020-21 season with a 3-10-1 record culminating with a season-ending 7-3 loss against Bentley in the Atlantic Hockey Association Tournament in March 2021. Air Force’s three victories last season came within 19 days of each other. After 10 consecutive losses to start the season, the Falcons compiled a three-game win streak to end the regular season, starting with a 4-3 win over Bentley and two wins over Canisius. 

This weekend’s games will be the seventh and eighth meeting all-time between the two programs, with Michigan State leading the series 6-0. However, five of the previous six meetings occurred almost 50 years ago with five games between Dec. 28, 1972, to Dec. 8, 1973. The last time these two teams met was in 2011, where the Spartans were able to win 3-2 in overtime,in the consolation game of the Ice Breaker Tournament in Grand Forks, North Dakota. 

Both teams enter the season as two of the youngest teams in the nation. Air Force currently has 18 first or second-year players on their 28 man roster, while the Spartans currently have 16 such players. However, both teams return senior goaltenders with a combined 91 starts in their careers. The mix of experience on both teams showed in their respective preseason polls with Air Force picked to finish in ninth place in the AHA and the Spartans picked to finish sixth in the Big Ten. 

Air Force will win if…

…they take a lead into the second intermission. The Spartans were a comeback team in 2019-20, but they were 0-13 last season when facing a deficit heading into the third period. Furthermore, two of the Falcons’ three wins last year came when they had the lead heading into the third. The Falcons are returning their three top scorers from last season and this matchup will provide them ample opportunities to nurse a lead if they can get a few past the Spartan netminders, DeRidder or Charleson. With a young and inexperienced team, Air Force will need to take a lead into the third period if they want any chance of escaping Munn Ice Arena with a victory, or two. 

Michigan State will win if…

…they get 30 or more shots on goal. Three of the Spartans’ seven wins last year came when they had 30 or more shots on goal. In the 2019-20 season, the Spartans went 8-4 when they reached that feat. The quality of shots will also matter in this game. If the Spartans can get some shots from defenseman Dennis Cesana and Nash Nienhuis, they will be in good shape with forwards Jagger Joshua and Erik Middendorf using their size in front of the net to get rebounds past netminder Alex Schilling. 

Puck drop for this weekend’s matchup is scheduled for 7 p.m both nights.