Whenever Michigan and Michigan State hit the ice, it’s
always a big game. Usually one of the two schools is fighting for
the CCHA crown. But for the first time in recent memory, both teams
are desperate to get back on the winning track and not fade into
mediocrity in the middle of the conference standings.

Janna Hutz
Michigan forward Jason Ryznar pushes Michigan State defenseman Joe Markusen. (DANNY MOLOSHOK/Daily)

At this point in the season, more unites these teams than
divides them. Both the Wolverines (5-3 CCHA, 9-5 overall) and the
Spartans (6-3-1, 8-7-1) have three losses in the past four games
and have fallen off the pace for first place in the CCHA. Both have
struggled on special teams recently, and it cost them wins this
past weekend. But more importantly, both coaches are looking to
this weekend for a turnaround.

“I’m disappointed where we are (at this
point),” Michigan State coach Rick Comley said.
“We’ve played some poor games, and we’ve played
some good games, but we’ve just been very
inconsistent.”

Both schools have fallen on hard times in recent weeks as they
prepare for a home-and-home series. For the first time in the
11-year history of the College Hockey Showcase, both Michigan and
Michigan State were swept —at home, no less — by
Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Much like its rival, Michigan State struggled on special teams
this past weekend, and it cost it against Wisconsin on Saturday, a
2-1 loss in overtime. Both schools anticipated a win against the
Badgers, but came away with nothing.

“I thought we matched up well with Wisconsin, and I
thought, overall, we played really well in that game,” Comley
said. “It was a really tight game, and we lost the game in
overtime on a powerplay.”

Michigan and Michigan State used to be in the WCHA with
Minnesota and Wisconsin until the Great Lakes State-schools opted
to join the CCHA in 1981. As a result, the Showcase has been a
showdown of the two premier teams in each conference — one of
the two schools was won either the CCHA regular season or
tournament title in 19 of a possible 22 chances. In addition, the
CCHA is just 3-11 against the WCHA this season.

“It’s been a frustrating year for the league,”
Comley said. “There’s been a large number of
nonconference losses (by CCHA teams). I think any time the two
leagues meet, especially the top (teams), it doesn’t show
very well (when the CCHA loses).”

The recent losses can be partially blamed on the revolving door
of injured players in the Michigan State lineup. Comley has juggled
his lines to compensate for numerous players going down with
injuries, and he attributes his team’s offensive struggles to
his players finding themselves with new linemates every
weekend.

“It’s been a tough year for us injury-wise,”
Comley said. “We’ve had a lot of kids hurt and out of
the lineup. (Tonight), for the first time all season, we have every
player to choose from — they’re not all 100 percent,
but I have the option to play them. We’ve had a very
inconsistent lineup, which hurts you.”

What it always boils down to is that both schools recognize the
other has the potential for playing like one of the best teams in
the country on any given night. Both schools have a long tradition
of success, and it is one of the few college hockey series that has
increased in media exposure recently, as Fox Sports Detroit is
carrying tonight’s game.

“I think (the rivalry) is very important (for college
hockey),” Comley said.

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