This weekend, the Michigan Wolverines and the Michigan State Spartans renew one of college hockey’s greatest traditional rivalries. Students, parents and alumni of both schools, as well as fans of all stripes, will stream to the games: Friday at Munn Arena in East Lansing, and Saturday at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena.
It’s an old rivalry, dating back to Jan. 11, 1922, when the University of Michigan hosted an upstart team from Michigan Agricultural College — later Michigan State College, later Michigan State University — and beat them 5-1.
At the time, no one could have guessed that the two schools would go on to play another 221 games, or that they would jointly produce ten NCAA national championships: two by the Spartans and eight by the Wolverines, including the first-ever in 1948.
One thing is for sure. This weekend, two programs separated by scarcely an hour’s drive, and joined by three-quarters of a century of tradition in competition, will face off once again.
May the best team win.
Michigan by Lisa Morrison and Mike Ward
Is this the greatest hockey rivalry in collegiate sports? Quite simply, if you’re a Michigander — or a player for either team — it is. And that makes this weekend the biggest weekend of hockey this season.
“It’s the weekend we circled very early on when we saw the schedule,” said Michigan goalie Marty Turco.
Wolverine captain Matt Herr appreciates the importance. “It doesn’t matter what type of year it is, you’re always playing for something. Whether it’s state pride, whether it’s first place, whether it’s bragging rights. Whatever it is, it’s Michigan-Michigan State. You can’t play it down.
“I’m a true Michigan guy and I will always think this is the greatest rivalry in the nation.”
The Wolverines enjoy a slight edge in the overall series, 118-98-6, and a 15-7-1 advantage at neutral sites. Further, this storied rivalry has seen a 31-game Michigan unbeaten streak and a 17-1 Wolverine victory. The last ten games have favored the Wolverines, who have garnered six wins and a 3.9-2.2 per-game advantage in scoring.
But that’s all in the past. For Michigan, the weekend will not make or break their season, but it can bring them closer to their goals. A sweep would virtually guarantee them the CCHA regular-season title, not to mention giving them an inside track on a bye in the NCAA West Regional.
On the other hand, an MSU sweep on the road and at a neutral site would put the lower-ranked Wolverines one point back in the CCHA race, though that likely would not cost them a bid to the NCAA tournament. Michigan’s senior leadership believes that most of the pressure is on the Spartans.
“Michigan State has more pressure on them in this game. They’re favored, expected to beat us and they’re ranked higher than us,” asserted Turco.
“The coaches don’t have to worry about getting guys pumped for this weekend, with two against the Green. It’s an individual challenge right down the whole row — every guy in practice and even the guys not playing in the game. We welcome the challenge and we look forward to it. We have destiny in our hands this weekend, and that’s the way we want it.”
The Wolverines are undaunted at the prospect of traveling to East Lansing. Goalies are often the target of home crowds, but Turco thinks the Wolverines are up to the challenge.
“Munn Ice Arena is a great place to play. The fans are right on you. It’s a great atmosphere, it’s someplace you look forward to going into. The rivalry against Michigan State makes your experience at Michigan all that much better. You look forward to the games against your arch-rivals, even on the road.”
Michigan coach Red Berenson appreciates the fact that the teams schedule the third game in the series at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
“It’s a great venue — everybody’s fans can go. It’s great when you fill that building, when you have half Michigan and half Michigan State fans,” he said, adding, “It’s really great when you get three-quarters Michigan fans and a quarter Michigan State fans.”
But perhaps it is Herr who best sums up both the series and the rivalry.
“Anytime you’re playing Michigan State, no matter where it is, it’s a fun game to play in — and that’s why you come to Michigan. You come to Michigan to play in the Michigan-Michigan State game. This is what hockey is.
“This is what the University of Michigan is all about.”
Michigan State by Daniel Rees Mills
Michigan State fans have filled Munn Arena to capacity for the past 214 regular-season games. The Spartans are 12-2-4 at home this season and 3-0-0 on neutral ice, and Michigan State hockey enthusiasts are long used to exciting games and strong performances.
So what makes these games stick out in the minds of Spartan faithful?
It’s not because head coach Ron Mason’s next win will be his 800th, a plateau never before achieved.
It’s not even because Michigan State’s opponent is ranked fifth and holds onto first place in the CCHA, three points ahead of the Spartans.
It’s because that opponent is the University of Michigan.
That’s right, Spartan fans. The Wolverines are coming to town, and they are bringing their pride with them. And watch out Saturday, when Michigan State and Michigan head to Joe Louis Arena to duke it out in the regular-season finale.
Michigan State senior Sean Berens, with his 26 goals this season, knows that the outcomes of these games are important to a lot more people than just the ones down on the ice.
“It’s a big weekend for the school,” he said, “Not only for the two teams but for all the fans, and all the faculty and staff. This weekend…determines a great rivalry.”
Any Spartan knows that there is nothing like beating Michigan, especially in a big game. Anyone who’s ever studied next to the Red Cedar River takes pleasure in watching a Wolverine stare at the clock in despair during the final seconds of a game about to be lost.
Michigan State has defeated Michigan twice this season — once in Ann Arbor, and once at Joe Louis Arena to take the Great Lakes Invitational title away from Michigan for the first time in nine years. You can be sure the Wolverines have not forgotten either game.
Similarly, the Michigan State squad is well aware of the magnitude of this weekend. Captain Tyler Harlton has been in this situation before, and no one knows better how it feels when his team spends its Friday and Saturday nights with Michigan.
“The adrenaline’s flowing because it is Michigan,” he said. “Being near the end of the season and both [teams] fighting for first place makes it that much bigger.”
Nonetheless, Harlton said there are no special provisions, no secret weapons that the Spartans can call on for a game like this.
“It’s the same mental preparation as we do for every game,” he said. “It’s basically just working hard Monday through Thursday at practice and trying to follow the same routine.”
Harlton and Berens are part of a five-man senior class for Michigan State which includes goaltender Chad Alban, right wing Kevin O’Keefe and defenseman-turned-left-wing Jon Gaskins. More than anyone, these veterans can appreciate a game against Michigan.
“We know the rivalry more now, being through four years and having some big losses to Michigan — and having a couple big wins,” Berens said. “Now is our chance to shine.”
Shine away, boys.