Michigan-Michigan State Set To Renew Rivalry
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Since every time teams like Michigan and Michigan State meet up — i.e. big rivalry weekend series — is a big deal, that's always an opportunity to reflect on where each program stacks up as the games approach.
It's safe to say that, at least so far, the word for the two teams this season would be ... unexpected.
Michigan State, now three years removed from a national title, and coming off a sub-par, angst-ridden season, has been one of the surprises of college hockey so far — going 7-2-1. And not just winning, but winning with a combination of offense and defense; it was figured the offense still had a ways to go.
Michigan, on the other hand, can always be counted on for strong regular seasons, but last year, it lost in the first round of the NCAAs to Air Force. It was highly-ranked again this season, and expected to wash that bad taste out quickly, but that hasn't happened. Instead, Michigan is 4-4, and was swept at home last week by Miami, after which long-time coach Red Berenson said his team acted like "spoiled brats" in a penalty-filled final 10 minutes of Saturday's loss.
Consequently, moreso than usual in such moments, this weekend will be a signature moment in each team's respective season. Can Michigan State keep it going? And can Michigan turn it around?
Beyond that, however, is the drama of Corey Tropp's return to Yost Ice Arena. Tropp and teammate Andrew Conboy were involved last January in an ugly incident, when they ganged up on Michigan defenseman Steve Kampfer following a clean hit by Kampfer on Tropp. Conboy threw Kampfer down to the ice viciously, and Tropp slashed Kampfer twice in the head. Both players were suspended by their own coach, Rick Comley, for the rest of the season. Conboy left school for the pros. Tropp returned.
Tropp is sure to face a hostile crowd tonight, and Comley has spoken with him about keeping things in check. But the bigger story here may be how Tropp has turned things around, and is fulfilling the expectations the program had for him when he was recruited. Despite — or perhaps motivated by — the drama of last season, Tropp has busted out of the gate with eight goals, which is best in the nation. It's a big deal for him, and huge for the team, which has needed some bonafide goal scorers.
"He's fine," Comley told the Lansing State Journal. "I don't think it'll be ugly. I think there will be a lot of verbal things directed at him but not anything more than that. Corey's reacted in a very positive way. Some lessons are tough lessons."
Michigan assistant Billy Powers told the paper that he doesn't expect that to be a focus whatsoever. There's plenty else at stake without worrying about that.
"It was unfortunate. There were a lot of things you didn't like about it, but we have moved on. Absolutely, there will be nothing involved this weekend that (comes) from what happened a year ago," Powers said.
Particularly, don't expect any unnecessary retaliation for Michigan, given the scolding its coach gave the team last weekend.
With Michigan getting badly beaten late in Saturday's game with Miami, and headed for a second straight loss, things got chippy — to say the least. Michigan had two different players take 10-minute misconducts, among other infractions. Berenson, afterwards, lit into the team, calling them "spoiled brats" for acting that way at the end of the losses. Essentially, he was telling them to act like men and suck it up — which really amounts to saying: look in the mirror.
So that's what Michigan spent this week on, for sure.
Besides all the personal drama, however, is this simple, glaring fact: Michigan won all five meetings between the two teams last season — the first time MSU didn't record a win against the Wolverines since 1994-95. Obviously, that is not something that sits too well with the Spartans.
The addition of an older freshman class — led by Derek Grant and his five points — and the return of fifth-year senior Nick Sucharski from injury has also boosted the Spartans.
An obvious focus is the goaltending, but there again there are additional storylines. Michigan State's Drew Palmisano has become the heir apparent to Jeff Lerg, going 5-1-1 with a 1.96 goals against average. The kicker is, he's a native of Ann Arbor. Meanwhile, Michigan's Bryan Hogan is struggling, and the Wolverines haven't felt truly settled in net since Al Montoya's sophomore year in 2004.