First and foremost, the ice is really good. I got to play in the media game last night. We skated straight through for an hour and a half. Even though there was quite a bit of snow out there by the end, the ice was still good. I didn't have the benefit of skating on new ice at Wisconsin, but once it was skated on for awhile, it was really choppy. Everyone in attendance who had skated at Wrigley said that this ice was better. There were a couple of iffy patches behind the north net, but aside from that it was really awesome.
The other thing I noticed is that there really isn't very much jump in the boards. I've never played hockey at Yost, so I'm not sure how it compares, but I know a few times last night there was a decently hard shot that came in off the end boards and it just died. It certainly was nowhere near the bounce that they have at Joe Louis--those things really are every bit as springy as they look on TV...if not more so. I know Merrill has taken to going all Nick Lidstrom and intentionally missing the net on some shots, so that could come into play as well.
I didn't have any trouble blocking out the fact that I was playing in an iconic football stadium, or that it was really cold out. Once the game started, it was just like any other game. The only time I really looked around was before a faceoff. I'm sure it'll be different with 113,000 people going crazy, but the adjustment really might not be all that big. And Michigan has an advantage in a few ways: One, the crowd is on their side. Two, a pretty good percentage of the players have played in an outdoor game already. Three, we've had a lot more icetime at the rink than MSU has had.
Reminder to everyone coming to the game: The golf courses will NOT be open for parking due to the wet conditions.
MGoBlog (Michigan, natch) and The Only Colors (MSU) have already written solid previews.You can check out some more detail over there.
A few things of note:
The Spartans come in 6-8-3 overall, and 3-7-1-0 in conference. As their record indicates, in conference they've been pretty crappy. Out of conference, they've been solid (3-1-2 against a fairly tough schedule of two against Maine, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and two against Huntsville). They were unbeaten (in regulation) in their first six, won one of the next seven, and have split the last four. They're just 2-5 away from Munn, but did win their latest road tilt, up in Big Rapids.
One player has more than 5 goals on the Spartans: Brett Perlini. After scoring 9 goals in his first two years (46 total games), he has exploded for 11 in the first 17 this year to rank 17th in the country in goals per game. Torey Krug has popped in 15 points from back on the blueline, putting him tops in the CCHA and #8 in the country amongst points per game by defensemen. Derek Grant is right on pace to match the 30 points he scored as a freshman, though his goal total is down.
Brian made a good point that Daultan Leveille might be someone who could take advantage of the big ice. He hasn't really lived up to his first-round draft status to this point, but he can definitely fly. If I remember right, he was thought of as quite possibly the fastest player in the draft. I know Red really liked the idea of Olympic ice, because it theoretically should be an advantage to his team. Leveille is the big Spartan hope to have that come back to bite us in the butt.
Drew Palmisano, who if you haven't heard is from Ann Arbor (and yes, I will continue to make that joke as often as we get "DREW PALMISANO IS FROM ANN ARBOR HEY GUYS DID YOU KNOW DREW PALMISANO IS FROM ANN ARBOR" stories), has played most of the minutes for the Spartans in net. He's 6-7-3 with a 2.44/.914. He had a ton of success against Michigan in the early part of last season, but that's been about all he's had against the Wolverines. After giving up 2 goals on 50 shots in a weekend sweep, and then making 22 stops in a third win, he gave up 5 on 35, 5 on 25, and 2 on 8 shots in the final three games, including the playoff sweep at Munn. In 08-09, the Wolverines put 6 goals on 56 shots past him over a game and 8 minutes. He has a 3.72/.889 against Michigan overall.
If the game goes to overtime, we might be in for a long one since neither team seems to want to win in the extra session. The Spartans are 0-2-3 in the extra period this year, while Michigan...I forget what the number was that someone posted on The Yost Post earlier in the week, but I think we were into double-digit OT games since we've won one.
Dustin Gazely has 3-5--8 in 15 games against Michigan. Leveille has 1-4--5 (11 games) and Krug has hurt us with 5 assists in six games. No other Spartan has more than 2 points against the Wolverines, and every player that has scored a point has played in at least 6 Michigan/MSU games.We've done a good job against Grant. Despite putting up 30 points as a freshman, Michigan held him to just one goal and he was -7 in six games.
As for the Wolverines, given that a lot of our scorers played against MSU during the "AVERT YOUR EYES!" season a couple years ago, we've got a lot of big point totals. Caporusso has 7-6--13 in 15 games. Hagelin has 6-6--12 in the same number. Wohlberg has 5-7--12 in 11 games. Rust has 5 goals and 10 points in 14 games. Burlon has 8 points in 11 games. Winnett (!!!) has 3-4--7 in 12 games--for his career as a whole he averages .3 points per game. He's at .58 against MSU. Treais, Brown, and Pateryn also average more than a half-point a game. The one guy that is surprisingly absent from that list is Chad Langlais. He has just 3 assists in 15 games against MSU.
Hogan gets the nod in net for Michigan. He's 6-3-0 against MSU with a 2.46/.893. He hasn't won in his last 4 starts against the Spartans, however, and has given up 3 or more in four of the last five.
The Wolverines look to have an edge in this matchup. They're at home, they're playing in front of 113,000 fans, it's on Olympic ice which should favor their speed, MSU has been terrible in conference. There are a few "Yeah but"s in here though.
The teams split six matchups last year. The Wolverines looked pretty bad in the first three before waking up and finishing the season strong. Unfortunately, the play this year so far has been strangely reminiscent of the earlier part of the season last year--maddening losses, a lifeless power play, etc.
It really could go either way. I've had too many special events turn out poorly for the team I'm rooting for to get over-confident about this one.
Outdoor hockey is something special. I don't understand anyone who argues that the novelty is wearing off or that it shouldn't be a semi-regular occurrence. We should be playing MSU outdoors at least once per class (i.e. kids that stay four years get to play in an outdoor game). The fans absolutely love outdoor games, the players absolutely love outdoor games, Red was actually smiling when talking about the outdoor game. The open skate at Camp Randall put ridiculous smiles on the faces of everyone there, and I'm sure the one at Michigan Stadium will be no different. Michigan went one step further and invited what? 50 high school and junior teams to play on the rink? All of those kids had an experience they'll never forget--and you never know, maybe we did a little recruiting in the process.
It's going to be an amazing day tomorrow, and hopefully we'll finally see the Wolverines win one of these damn things!