EAST LANSING – The Michigan State hockey team opens up its season up this weekend against the Northern Michigan Wildcats. The Spartans will have to travel to the Upper Peninsula for two matchups in Marquette, Michigan.
The Wildcats will be no easy foe for the Spartans. Northern Michigan will start the reigning Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) Defenseman of the Year in senior Philip Beaulieu. Beaulieu was a junior last year and lead all WCHA defensemen with 28 points, six goals and 22 assists, and is poised to come back for his senior year and dominate both ends of the ice once again.
Northern Michigan is coming off an impressive 4-3 win over the United States National Development Team this past weekend. That game was the Wildcats’ first time taking the ice in a game situation since getting swept in the WCHA semifinals last season by a quality Bowling Green team.
The Wildcats will be a much easier foe on paper after losing two more WCHA award winners to graduation this past spring. They will start the season without their best forward, Troy Loggins, who was the WCHA scoring champion last season with 32 points in 28 league games.
The Wildcats also lost WCHA Goaltender of the Year and First Team All-WCHA recipient, Atte Tolvanen, who had a stellar season. Tolvanen lead the WCHA in saves, wins and shutouts. Both will be hard to replace, but not having to worry about those two will be a big weight off the Spartans’ shoulders.
The Spartans, however, also enter this year having to replace elite talent they lost this past spring. The Spartans will have to replace winger Taro Hirose, who was a finalist for the Hobey Baker award. He will be a tough player to replace for this Spartan hockey team.
Hirose tallied 116 points in 106 games, including 50 points last season, in his time in a Spartan uniform and will leave large shoes to fill on that first line.
All signs so far have pointed to freshman Nicolas Müller stepping into that first line winger spot that Hirose left, to join center Patrick Khodorenko and Mitchell Lewandowski.
The Spartans are coming off a dominant 6-1 win against the Western Ontario Mustangs this past Monday and will try to maintain the offensive potency they had against the Mustangs. The Spartans tallied 55 shots in their exhibition game thanks to a quality showing from the power play units.
Michigan State and Northern Michigan opened up last season against each other in East Lansing, with each team taking one game from the two-game weekend matchup.
Game one of the Spartans at Wildcats is set for 7 p.m. in Marquette on Friday, and game two is Saturday night at 6 p.m. in Marquette as well.
Contact Kyle Hatty at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @KyleHattyIN.