According to Michigan coach Red Berenson, there’s not much that differentiates the ninth-ranked Wolverines from No. 11 Michigan State heading into Friday’s CCHA semifinal game at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

The teams have met five times this year, splitting the series with two wins apiece and, most recent, a tie on Feb. 10. As the Wolverines search for the edge in this rivalry, the team’s defensive corps is optimistic about its ability to make a difference this weekend.

“We’re feeling pretty good about ourselves because we’ve had guys play in the playoffs before,” senior alternate captain Jason Dest said. “We’ve got a veteran group – the freshmen aren’t freshmen anymore. We can put anybody out there against any line and feel confident.”

At times, the Michigan defensemen have stopped the Spartans cold, but untimely mistakes at the blue line have cost the Wolverines dearly in both losses to Michigan State.

Playing against an aggressive offense like the Spartans’, each mishap seems to result in a goal. A misplayed puck by captain Matt Hunwick led to an easy breakaway goal by Michigan State’s Bryan Lerg and broke the Wolverines’ back in their bid for their first Great Lakes Invitational Championship since 1996.

And on Nov. 3, the Spartans took a two-goal lead en route to a 7-4 victory in East Lansing when the Wolverines failed to clear Michigan State’s Justin Abdelkader out of the goal crease before he tipped a rebound past goaltender Billy Sauer.

Freshman Steve Kampfer, who was on the ice for Abdelkader’s game-winner, has since worked on getting between opponents and Michigan’s goal in an effort to cut down on goals against off rebounds.

“At the beginning of the year, I struggled a lot with beating my man back to the net,” Kampfer said. “With that, I’ve grown a lot. And I need to make sure I make the quick play instead of trying to hold on for too long.”

Playing against the Spartans for the sixth time, the defensemen seem focused on avenging mistakes made in the five prior meetings.

Known for their physical nature, the Wolverine blue liners are excited to renew the individual rivalries that have developed over time.

“It’s fun,” Dest said. “It gets the rivalry going even more than it already is. We always play these guys a lot of times each year. It’s fun because you start to get grudges against one another. You just want to get out there and play hard.”

If the Wolverines advance to Saturday’s CCHA Championship game, the team will have less than 24 hours to prepare for its next opponent – the winner of the other semifinal match-up between No. 1 Notre Dame and Lake Superior State.

Even with a potentially tougher game looming on the horizon, Dest knows Michigan can’t look past Michigan State.

“We’ve played Notre Dame and Lake State before,” Dest said. “So our staff has video and scouting reports and all that good stuff. But we’re not so much worried about the other team, what we’ve been talking about lately – the only guys we’re talking about – is ourselves. The thing we’re going to focus on is how Michigan will play – how hard and how strong.”

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