The Michigan State Spartans might have just squeaked into the tournament as the final at-large team, but come puck-drop on Friday afternoon, everyone is on even terms. The Spartans take on #1 seeded Union (3rd seed overall) in Bridgeport, CT.
Friday's game will mark the first ever meeting between Michigan State and Union. The Spartans are 4-2-1 all-time against the ECAC in the NCAA tournament. This includes two national championship victories (1986 - Harvard, 1966 - Clarkson), so maybe that's a sign.
Union finished the year strong going 15-2-2 since the calendar flipped to 2012. Union is 24-7-7 on the season. They tied Western twice this year, and won a game at Yost. Union hasn't lost since a February 24th defeat at Cornell.
Union Leading Scorers:
Kelly Zajac 8 goals, 41 points
Jeremy Welsh 25 goals, 40 points
Daniel Carr 19 goals, 38 points
Wayne Simpson 17 goals, 30 points
Mat Bodie 8 goals, 28 points
Kyle Bodie 5 goals, 28 points
Troy Grosenick 20-5-3, 1.65 GAA, .936 save %
Union Special Teams:
PP: 44 for 183, 24.0 %
PK: 122 for 144, 84.7 %
At quick glance:
Union, this season, has gotten off to some terrific starts. Union has outscored teams 59-20 in the first period. They've also finished strongly outscoring teams 43-23 in the final period. The middle frame they've only held a 33-25 edge in goals. Union averages 3.55 goals per a game this year, and they've only allowed 1.82 goals per a game. Union gets 35.1 shots on goal, and they only allow 26.2 per a game. Finally, they aren't penalized too often either only giving up 10 penalty minutes a game.
Union's defense is ranked #1 in the country, and they are tied for 3rd in offense. Michigan State is ranked in a tie for 19th on defense (2.63 goals per a game), and 24th on offense (2.89 goals scored per a game).
Union is a very balanced & strong team all around. They have the 4th best power play in the country as well. The good news is MSU's penalty kill is 4th in the country killing off 87.3% of the power plays they face.
Michigan State has had some scoring issues. In the Miami series, MSU only managed one goal the entire series. This was after splitting in South Bend - the loss was a shutout. Miami outscored the Spartans 10-1.
It's pretty clear that Michigan State will need to get off to a strong start. Union isn't the biggest team in this region, so that could help MSU who tend to struggle against much bigger squads. Union looks to be the type of team that if they build an early lead, it will be very hard to comeback. In fact, Union is 19-2-4 when leading after the first period and 12-0-3 when leading after 2. If you include tied games, Union is 24-4-6 when leading or tied after one. Likewise, thy are 22-2-4 when leading or tied after two.
On the flip side, MSU is 11-1-3 when leading after one, and 12-3 when leading ofter two.
The first goal is going to be huge.
It'd be great if the power play got going too, but Union won't give MSU many chances, so State will need to take advantage of what they can.
This could come down to Torey Krug simply making plays, as he has all season long. The Spartans certainly are going to be well rested, but that could lead to some rust and an iffy opening period. Yanakeff (or Palmisano) will need to be sharp early on to help keep the game scoreless. If they play strong, Michigan State will be in this game till the end. The Spartans have battled hard all season long, and if they play hard for the full 60 minutes, they will have a chance to pull off the victory.
All you need is a chance, and Michigan State has that chance to really put a footprint in the sand this weekend.
This game will be on TV on ESPNU at 3 pm. The game can be heard on 1240 AM and the Spartan Sports Network (use links to the left). The winner of this game will face the winner of Miami & Mass.-Lowell on Saturday at 6:30 pm.
You can also follow us on twitter @The MunnMinute for game updates or follow @MSU_Hockey on Twitter for game updates.