Ralph Engelstad Arena (Grand Forks, ND) will be buzzing Saturday night, as the defending NCAA champion and #3-ranked Michigan State Spartans take to the ice against preseason #1 North Dakota in the U.S. Hall of Fame Game.
As the coaches recognize, nonconference results between national powers play a major part in the selection of the 16 teams for the NCAA tournament, even games played in October.
“This game will carry a lot of weight at the end of the season,” UND head coach Dave Hakstol said. “So we want a good start and to get a win in the bank.”
“It’s an honor to play in the Hall of Fame Game,” Michigan State head coach Rick Comley said. “I think it’s a real good, early wake-up test.”
The Fighting Sioux bring back 19 players from last year’s squad, after having lost three seniors to graduation and two sophomores to the pro ranks. The early-departure bug missed the Spartans completely this off-season, as Michigan State returns every eligible player (20 letterwinners in all) from last season’s championship team, Both teams are looking forward to getting the season started after last week’s exhibition wins against Canadian clubs.
“The expectations for us are high,” UND junior defenseman and alternate-captain Taylor Chorney said. “I guess we’ll find early if we’re for real.”
“We got better every period,” said MSU senior defenseman and alternate captain Daniel Vukovic, of his team’s 6-0 victory over the University of Windsor. “It’s a stepping stone. Saturday’s going to be the real test.”
“I think it’s good to get your game intensity up right away,” Sioux senior captain Rylan Kaip said. “It’s a good opportunity to make a statement about our team.”
Michigan State Team Profile
Head Coach: Rick Comley (6th season at MSU, 116-73-19, .603)
Last Season: 26-13-3 (NCAA Champions), 15-10-3 CCHA (4th)
Key Returning Players: Junior F Justin Abdelkader (15 goals, 18 assists last season; 2007 Frozen Four MVP), Senior F Bryan Lerg (23g, 13a), Junior F Tim Kennedy (18g, 25a), Junior G Jeff Lerg (26-13-3, 2.41 GAA, .913 SV)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (4th season at UND, 78-45-11, .623)
Last Season: 24-14-5 (Frozen Four Appearance), 13-10-5 WCHA (3rd)
Key Returning Players: Junior F Ryan Duncan (31g, 26a; 2007 Hobey Baker Award winner), Junior F T.J. Oshie (17g, 35a), Junior D Taylor Chorney (8g, 23a), Senior D Robbie Bina (10g, 22a), Senior G Jean-Philippe Lamoureux (21-12-4, 2.42 GAA, .913 SV)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: October 9, 2005. Michigan State shut out North Dakota 3-0 in the title game of the Lefty McFadden Invitational Tournament (Dayton, Ohio) to snap an 11-game losing streak against the Sioux.
Last Meeting in Grand Forks: November 21-22, 1980. North Dakota swept the series 6-4 and 5-2 while Michigan State was still a member of the WCHA.
Most important meetings: The Sioux and Spartans have met twice to decide the National Championship, with UND prevailing in both the 1959 and 1987 title games.
All-time: UND leads the all-time series with 61 wins against 35 losses and 2 ties (.633). The Sioux hold a 33-11-1 (.744) record against the Spartans in Grand Forks.
Game News and Notes
Saturday’s game will be the first official game of the 2007-2008 season for both teams. The Spartans are looking to break a two-year streak in which the previous NCAA champion failed to qualify for the post-season. Both Denver (2005) and Wisconsin (2006) failed to make the 16-team field as defending National Champions. This will be the third time UND has hosted the Hall of Fame game, most recently on October 4, 2003, when they hosted the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. UND also hosted Minnesota for the grand opening of the new Ralph Engelstad Arena on October 5, 2001. MSU Junior netminder Jeff Lerg started all 42 games for the Spartans last season and played almost 97% of the minutes between the pipes. Saturday’s tilt will be the 99th meeting between the teams.
I have a feeling that this is a one-goal game either way. The edge goes to North Dakota playing in front of their fans, but keep a close eye on the special teams battle, as whichever side prevails there should win the game. UND 4-3.
Check back after Saturday’s game for news, commentary, and analysis. Thanks for reading, and, as always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.