Photo courtesy DU Athletics
The 6th-ranked University of Denver Pioneers will travel to East Lansing, Michigan to take on the Michigan State Spartans this weekend. After what has transpired over the last two weeks, going 0-2 and then sweeping one of the country’s most talented teams in Boston University, this will be another key weekend for the Pioneers on their way to forging their 2016-17 identity.
The Spartans went an unimpressive 10-23-4 last season. And it seems they’ve picked up right where they left off getting embarrassed by Lake Superior State in their first two matchups of this season (6-1, 7-3). The Spartans will certainly look to right the ship, albeit on rough waters when they return home for their home opener against the Pios.
Head coach Tom Anastos’ Spartans are a young hockey team. Last week they had 10 players who saw their first collegiate hockey action. In their game on Oct. 15, five of their six defensemen were rookies.
Michigan State’s top goal scorer from last season, Mackenzie MacEeachern, took his talents to the NHL and signed with the St. Louis Blues. However, they were able to return a few of their top scorers including captain Joe Cox (11-12-23), JT Stenglein (8-14-22), and Mason Appleton (5-17-22).
Defenseman Zach Osburn is the Spartan to watch. He was selected to the Big Ten All-Freshman Team as he led all Spartan defensemen in scoring and ranked second among Big Ten rookie blueliners with 19 points, including six goals. Dating back to last season, Osburn has points in seven of the last nine games, including a goal and an assist this past weekend.
The Pioneers earned the weekend sweep over the Spartans when they met up in Denver during the early stages of the 2015-16 campaign. In one of those games, MSU held a 2-1 lead in the latter stages of the third period but the Pios scored two quick goals and ended up pulling out the 4-2 victory. It’s also worth noting that Denver leads the all-time series against Michigan State, 56-16-2.
This is a must-sweep weekend for the Denver Pioneers if they want to build on last weekend’s impressive performance against the Terriers and continue forging their identity as a national contender. It’s hard to see the Pios dropping either game this weekend, but if they come out looking like the squad that lost to OSU and BC two weeks ago, it could be a long weekend in central Michigan. After their showing against BU last weekend, though, it’s difficult to see the Pioneers do anything but dominate the Spartans.