EAST LANSING - For the 288th time in history, the Michigan State Spartans and Michigan Wolverines will square off on the ice at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor on Friday – kicking off a two-game, home-and-home weekend series – to write another chapter in the storied rivalry.
And although this will be Plymouth native Mike Ferrantino’s first taste of the action in this bitter feud, you certainly don’t have to tell the freshman forward how big this weekend truly is.
“I used to go to [MSU/UM games] all the time, whether it was up here or at Yost,” Ferrantino said. “It was always a dream to be a part of this rivalry and to play in those big-time games, so it’ll really be special come Friday and Saturday.”
Coach Tom Anastos – though only in his second year as the Spartans’ head coach – has the most experience of his squad dealing with the rivalry, having played at MSU under Ron Mason from 1981-1985. He said that, although he’s guiding a particularly youthful team this season, he’s not worried about the players realizing the importance of the weekend.
“I think people catch onto it pretty quick,” Anastos said. “We emphasize it here. I think you’re lying or pretending not to be truthful if you don’t realize it’s an important series. It’s an important series for our team, for our alumni, for our student population and anybody who follows our program. And it’s the same for them. I think you catch on pretty quick, and if you don’t, you’re left by the roadside, so you better hop on quick.”
Sophomore forward Brent Darnell had the chance to play Michigan for the first time last season, and said his team can’t really change anything about their approach; the emotions will undoubtedly run higher than usual, but it’s still just a pair of games the Spartans need to be prepared for.
“It’s a big rivalry series,” Darnell said. “I feel at the same time, though, you can’t really go about your approach any differently because, at the end of the day, it still counts as two games in the standings. But obviously, I feel emotionally our levels are going to be a lot higher than maybe it is playing like a Bowling Green last week.”
Ferrantino sounded wise beyond his youth, echoing Darnell’s mentality on approaching the much-anticipated series.
“[The upperclassmen] are excited for us to get a taste of it, but they’re also saying, ‘Don’t let it get to you too much. It’s still just a hockey game when it comes down to it.’ “
The Spartans’ bench boss also said he fully expects Red Berenson’s Wolverines – whose 4.43 goals per game average leads not only the CCHA but also the entire NCAA – to be a handful this weekend.
“They have a defense that is very mobile, and they move the puck real well,” Anastos said. “They’ll be very tough to play against, defensively, and offensively, they’re very talented. They play in waves, they love to flow up and down the ice. They attack offensively very hard, and that’s going to be a big challenge for us to try to deny.”