After resting and recuperating during the bye week, the Michigan State hockey team returns to conference play. This week they travel to Columbus for a series with the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Value City Arena, Columbus, Ohio (Friday and Saturday)
Dates and times:
7 p.m. on Feb. 2 and 3
BTN Plus (Both games)
Spartan Sports Network (Both games)
Michigan State is coming off three straight losses. The last two were by the narrowest of margins to Minnesota. Twice the Spartans fell behind the Gophers. Twice they rallied to tie the game in the third period, and twice Minnesota scored the late game-winning goal off a defensive miscue. Michigan State has shown some spunk and gumption these last few games but they still lack the finish.
This was made abundantly obvious when playing the Gophers in Madison Square Garden. MSU had to play without their top goal scorers, Taro Hirose and Mitch Lewandowski, and still try to make a comeback. Lewandowski was ejected in the first period following a high elbow that struck the head of a Gopher player. Hirose exited the game shortly thereafter with an undisclosed injury. The two underclassmen make up roughly 49 percent of the Spartans’ scoring output and by all indications will be back in the lineup for this weekend’s series.
Ohio State has arguably taken the title of “Hottest Team in the Big Ten” right now after sweeping Michigan last weekend and previous top dog Notre Dame lost two out of their last three games. It was the first time since the 1985-86 season that the Buckeyes swept a regular season series against Michigan and now Ohio State has won nine of their last ten.
The key for the Buckeyes is not just their offense, which ranks No. 18 in the nation, but their top-five defense led by senior goaltender Sean Romeo who transfered from the University of Maine in 2016. By combining a capable offense with a new, vaunted defense, Ohio State has surged to a well deserved No. 5 ranking in the latest USCHO.com poll. Believe it or not, the Buckeyes are looking to be title contenders come Big Ten tournament time.
This series could very well be a preview of the opening round of the Big Ten tournament come March. Assuming Ohio State holds on to its number two spot and Michigan State can’t catch up to Minnesota, the first round will feature the Spartans and Buckeyes in Columbus. Despite the off week and the extra time to prep, I have a hard time envisioning a scenario that sees MSU picking up a win on the road. Ohio State has been playing like a well-oiled machine so far with their last loss coming against Penn State on Jan. 12. The Spartans will likely put forward a good effort, but will have to wait another week before getting to double-digit wins.