Luke Moffatt didn’t mince words when talking about the Michigan hockey team’s rivalry with Michigan State.
“You want to kill them,” the sophomore forward said bluntly on Monday. “You hate them.”
Those sentiments might be a little extreme. But all of the Wolverines take the underlying meaning of Moffatt’s words to heart: the game against the school down the highway is circled in red on the calendar every year. It’s a big deal.
To No. 4 Michigan, there are more than just six points in CCHA standings on the line this weekend — it’s about respect and bragging rights.
So, the mood at practice this week was a little different. As Moffatt puts it, Michigan State weekend demands “just that little bit extra” from the team.
But perhaps nobody places more importance on this weekend than Michigan coach Red Berenson, who has seen the rivalry both from the ice and the bench.
“(As a player), winning the games was huge,” Berenson said. “I remember they were emotional, physical and hard-fought. When I got back here as a coach, our team would always play better against (Michigan State) than anyone else.”
In some ways, there’s no better time for the Wolverines to take on the 17th-ranked Spartans. Michigan has cruised up to third in the CCHA standings and is sitting comfortably in second place in the national Pairwise Rankings.
But the Wolverines’ recent success has come at a price, and the first game in the series will be played without junior forward Chris Brown. Michigan has had a string of two intensely physical and emotional series — so physical, in fact, that Brown is suspended for Friday’s game for brawling in last weekend’s Miami (Ohio) series.
But Berenson was insistent that the Wolverines and Spartans have too much respect for each other to get carried away by emotions this weekend.
The last time the teams met, they combined for a total of 12 penalty minutes — hardly any in comparison to the 52 minutes that Michigan alone spent in the box last Saturday.
“They’re hard-fought games, but you don’t get the stupidity,” Berenson said. “It just seems that when we play Michigan State, there’s a rivalry edge that you get to and then you just stay there — you don’t go any further.
Moffatt will take Brown’s spot on the top line in Friday’s match-up, skating with senior David Wohlberg and freshman Alex Guptill.
According to Berenson, Moffatt is “the right guy” to put there — the confidence and poise he displayed when Michigan last trekked to East Lansing in December instilled a sense of confidence in the coach.
And having Berenson’s approval means the world to Moffatt.
“It’s great that coach has a trust in me and he can throw me up there,” Moffatt said. “(Playing on the top line) is a great challenge. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to, something to strive for.”
Moffatt will only have to play one game in front of a hostile Munn Ice Area crowd this weekend, though, as Michigan forfeits a home game to play at Joe Louis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings, on Saturday.
The last time the Wolverines and Spartans met in Detroit, on Dec. 30, Michigan walked away with an overtime win in the finale of the Great Lakes Invitational.
But the Wolverines don’t have to think twice about giving up a comfy-home game in lieu of playing at Joe Louis. Playing in professional facility has a magnetic draw for the players, especially when the crowd is evenly split between the two teams.
“Any time you play in an NHL arena … it’s really nice,” said fifth-year senior netminder Shawn Hunwick. “You’re growing up and watching the NHL games … anytime you can play in a good match-up in the Joe, those are always fun.”