Michigan State hockey gearing up for home-and-home series with rival Michigan

MSU's Nicolas Muller works the puck against Jackson LaCombe of Minnesota Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, at Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing. [Jack Moreland/Lansing State Journal]
MSU's Nicolas Muller works the puck against Jackson LaCombe of Minnesota Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, at Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing. [Jack Moreland/Lansing State Journal]

Motivation won't be a problem for the Michigan State hockey team this weekend.

The Spartans will not only be hungry to rebound after being swept for the first time this season — 5-0 and 6-3 losses at the hands of Big Ten-leading Minnesota — MSU (11-6-1 overall, 5-4-1 Big Ten) will do so against an opponent that naturally stokes the intensity level.

Michigan (11-6-1, 3-5), ranked sixth and seventh in the two national polls, will be the foe for a home-and-home series that starts with Friday night's 6:30 p.m. game at Munn Arena.

It'll mark the 339th and 340th times the two schools with rinks separated by just 65 miles will face off on the ice. The Wolverines hold an all-time series edge 176-138-24.

"It's the greatest rivalry in college hockey, and it's been going on for a long time and the state of Michigan is a big hockey state," said MSU coach Adam Nightingale, whose team is ranked 12th and 13th in the two polls. "In families, you grow up at a young age and you're either a Spartan or a Wolverine. We have a lot of Michiganders on our team so we're excited about playing in it."

The Spartans, despite last weekend's two defeats, have still won seven of their past 10 and have been noticeably more dangerous on offense this season. The Spartans are ranked 13th nationally with 3.39 goals per game and are fifth in the country in shots on goal per game at 33.72.

A fair amount of the scoring boost has come from MSU's freshman class. First-year forward Daniel Russell leads MSU with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists), with fellow freshman Karsen Dorwart right behind with 17 (seven goals, 10 assists). Freshman defenseman Matt Basgall has 10 points (3-7) and freshman forward Tiernan Shoudy has three goals and seven points.

Meanwhile, some veterans have found their scoring touch, too. Senior forward Nicolas Muller, who hadn't had a season with double-digit points, is already up to 17 points, including a team-high 14 assists, good for second in the Big Ten. Same goes for senior forward Jagger Joshua, whose six goals and six assists are both career highs. Sophomore Tanner Kelly, who had five points in 34 games his first season, has four goals and nine assists so far.

MSU will need to continue to find offense this weekend against a U-M team ranked second in the country in goals per game and shots on goal per game, while boasting the country's seventh best power-play unit.

"It's historical, and it doesn't really matter how the year is going for either team, it's a school versus school kind of thing," said Basgall, who will get his first taste of this rivalry. "It's a lot bigger than just the guys in the room. We are playing for the school – everyone who has gone here, going here and will go here."

Michigan is coming into the weekend after a disappointing split on the road at Wisconsin (7-9, 1-7), as the struggling Badgers earned their first conference win of the season.

U-M is led in scoring by freshman forward Adam Fantilli (11 goals, 15 assists), a potential No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming 2023 draft.

Like the the Spartans, the Wolverines' freshmen are also producing at a high rate. Forwards Rutger McGroarty (eight goals, 10 assists), T.J. Hughes (seven goals, 10 assists) and Gavin Brindley (one goal, nine assists), as well as defenseman Seamus Casey (four goals, 12 assists), have all made an early impact in a program that lost multiple first-round NHL picks from a year ago.

UM also has familiar veteran faces in forwards Mackie Samoskevich (12 goals, nine assists), Dylan Duke (nine goals, eight assists) and 2021 No. 4 overall pick Luke Hughes (three goals, 14 assists). All-Big Ten second-team selection Erik Portillo (10-5, 2.94 goals-against average, .902 save percentage) returns in net.

"It's the same Michigan," Nightingale said. "They have a lot of talent, a lot of speed and play with a lot of skill. They're a really good team."

Friday's game has already been announced as a sellout and Saturday's contest in Ann Arbor (also at 6:30 p.m. at Yost Arena) will likely be full as well. The fan interest adds to the intensity in the lockerroom, where the Spartans are eager for another chance at their rivals after losing all six meetings last season.

Even the freshmen can feel the anticipation.

"My excitement is through the roof, and obviously growing up around here, I know we hate those guys and those guys hate us," Shoudy said. "It'll be interesting to see what it's like in the game and not on the outside watching, because I've grown up kind of hating those guys."

Both games will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

Contact Nathaniel Bott at nbott@;sj.com and follow him on Twitter @Nathaniel_Bott

MSU's Matt Basgall moves the puck against Matthew Knies of Minnesota Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, at Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing. [Jack Moreland/Lansing State Journal]
MSU's Matt Basgall moves the puck against Matthew Knies of Minnesota Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, at Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing. [Jack Moreland/Lansing State Journal]

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: MSU hockey: Huge home-and-home series with rival Michigan on deck