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Big Chill Breakdown: Michigan vs. Michigan State

BY MARK BURNS
Daily Sports Editor
Published December 8, 2010

When Michigan and Michigan State skated to a 3-3 tie in the Cold War — the first-ever outdoor Division I college hockey game, on Oct. 6, 2001 at Spartan Stadium — they set the precedent for outdoor hockey games.

And on Saturday, the Wolverines and Spartans will meet in the Big Chill at the Big House, the world’s third-largest non-soccer stadium. The game is projected to draw more than 110,000 to Michigan Stadium, crushing the old record for attendance at a hockey game. It was last set at the 2010 IIHF World Championship at Veltins-Arena in Germany — the recorded attendance was 75,976.

Fireworks are set to go off after Michigan scores, and Guinness World Records will be in attendance to put the event in the history books. Clearly, the stage is monumental in every sense of the word.

Offense

Following the end of last season, there was some speculation that Michigan coach Red Berenson might lose upward of three juniors — Carl Hagelin, Louie Caporusso and Matt Rust — to entry-level contracts with their respective NHL organizations.

But instead of foregoing their senior season, the forwards decided to return to Ann Arbor in hopes of winning the program’s first national championship since 1998. So, it’s no surprise then that the three are the Wolverines’ leading scorers almost midway through the season, helping Michigan to an average of 3.22 goals per game.

Even with a senior-laden roster, the Wolverines have a slew of underclassmen who have contributed on the offensive end. Over the last few weeks, the line of freshman Luke Moffatt and sophomores A.J. Treais and Chris Brown has tallied four goals and 11 assists. Berenson gave a vote of confidence to the young crop of Wolverines shortly after putting the trio together, saying that they can match up against any other line in the country.

And while Hagelin, Caporusso and Rust all returned for their senior season, Spartan forward Corey Tropp and Andrew Rowe didn’t — both opted to sign with NHL teams and head to their respective AHL affiliates. Tropp and Rowe were Michigan State coach Rick Comley’s one-two punch on offense last season, with Tropp leading the Spartans with 20 goals.

Michigan State sophomore Derek Grant and junior Brett Perlini have led the Spartans early on in scoring, as Perlini sits in eighth place in total points in CCHA play with 11 goals and 5 assists.

If the Big Chill turns into an offensive shootout, expect the hometown team to use speed to its advantage against the Spartans.

Edge: Michigan

Defense

Berenson said adios to two of his best defensemen last year in seniors Steven Kampfer and Chris Summers. The two led a deep crop of blue liners who were an integral part of the Wolverines’ stretch-run to the CCHA Tournament title in March.

But even without the two veterans, Michigan's roster is still full of talented defensemen, led by senior Chad Langlais and junior Brandon Burlon. And with freshman standout Jon Merrill pairing with Langlais, the Wolverines could have the best defensive pair in the CCHA.

The Wolverines are allowing 2.5 goals per game compared to the Spartans' 2.71.

In addition to Michigan State losing two junior forwards last year, it also lost defenseman and captain Jeff Petry. Petry — who actually started the list of Spartans leaving early for the NHL when he signed with the Edmonton Oilers in March — was undoubtedly the leader along the blue line for Comley.

Without his star offensive defenseman, Comley has called upon sophomore Torey Krug to lead a young crop of Spartans. Krug, who was named the team captain in late August, is second in points with five goals and 10 assists.

Experience will play a factor in this game, and Michigan has a slight advantage in that respect.

Edge: Michigan

Special Teams

Ever since the beginning of the season, Michigan’s power play has been a work in progress. Whether it’s not getting enough shots on net or failing to set up inside the offensive zone, the Wolverines have struggled to muster a 15.4-percent rate with the man advantage, converting on 12 of 78 opportunities.

Compared to Michigan, the Spartans have converted on 17.5 percent of their power plays.

While Michigan State might exhibit a better power play statistically, both teams are relatively even on the penalty kill, with Michigan at No. 30 in the country and the Spartans at No. 29

Last weekend, the Wolverines killed off seven of eight power plays against Ohio State, but over the Thanksgiving holiday, Michigan’s penalty kill allowed four goals at Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Edge: Michigan State

Goaltending

Throughout the week leading up until the Big Chill, Berenson remained mute about which goaltender — Bryan Hogan or Shawn Hunwick — would get the start between the pipes.

But after Thursday's practice, he said Hogan would get the nod against Michigan State, citing his current 7-2 record and past outdoor experience at the Camp Randall Classic last February against Wisconsin as reasons for starting.

Down at the other end of the ice is Spartan junior Drew Palmisano, who has started 16 of 18 contests for the Spartans, allowing 2.44 goals per game — good for 31st in the country. The Ann Arbor native has been backstopping a team weighted by 14 underclassmen, and a defensive core that lost its best defenseman last year in Petry.

Compared to Hogan, Palmisano controls more of his rebounds than Hogan, but like the defensive aspect of the game, experience will again play a factor.

Even so, the outcome of tomorrow's game won't be determined between the pipes, as both teams start solid netminders.

Edge: Push

Intangibles

The Children of Yost — the name given to the Michigan student section in the early 1990s — will be in attendance on Saturday at the Big House, though their witty cheers and sometimes raunchy jeers at opposing teams shouldn't play a role in the game’s outcome, as noise easily funnels out of Michigan Stadium.

But at this week’s Monday press conference, Berenson did say the wind, snow and weather conditions will certainly factor into the Big Chill's outcome. With the contest slated to begin at 3 p.m., the weather could very well dip below freezing toward the third period, maybe even sooner. Over the course of the last week, there has been more than 20 amateur and college club games on the actual ice in an effort to get the ice game-ready for the heavyweight match up.

Fans should hope the extra games haven’t broken down the ice too much, because if they have, expect another situation like that during last year's Camp Randall Classic, with constant stoppages for ice repair and snow removal.

This one’s too close to call between the Spartans and the Wolverines.

Edge: Push

FINAL SCORE Michigan 2, Michigan State 1