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No. 14 Michigan Wolverines Hockey Weekend Preview: Michigan State

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Continuing a stretch of pre-holiday Big Ten conference series, No. 14 Michigan (6-5-3, 2-2-1-1 Big Ten) plays a home-and-home set with in-state rival Michigan State (5-7-0, 1-3-0-0 Big Ten), Friday night in East Lansing (7 p.m., BTN Plus) and Saturday night in Ann Arbor (7:30 p.m., BTN Plus)

Point-wise, the Wolverines have split their three initial Big Ten weekend series with No. 8 Notre Dame, No. 6 Penn State and Wisconsin, placing them third in the conference standings.

Michigan will try to build on last weekend’s strong defensive performance against Wisconsin where they capitalized on the improved goaltending performance of junior netminder Hayden Lavigne to hold the Badgers to just three goals in the weekend two-game series.

Respected second-year Spartan head coach Danton Cole is fully into re-building the Michigan State program on the strength of the Spartans’ “KHL” line – junior forwards Patrick Khodorenko and Taro Hirose, and sophomore forward Mitch Lewandowski. Easily the top line for Michigan State this season, the trio has rung up 19 goals in 12 games with Khodorenko leading the way with nine of those 19 scores.

In net, Michigan State has used a combination of junior John Lethemon and freshman Drew DeRidder to post a team goals-against average over 3.00 and a save percentage under .900, similar to Michigan’s struggles in net in the first third of the season.

The Wolverines are highly reliant on the puck-control skills of sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes in all three zones. Hughes’ game is rounding into form, both on the scoresheet and in subtler ways.

He has added eight points to the Michigan offense in the last nine games, two of them coming last weekend to boost his season scoring total to 15 points, second highest on the team behind sophomore forward Josh Norris’ 16 points and first among all Big Ten defensemen.

Junior forward Taro Hirose has built on last season’s Spartan MVP performance to spark the Michigan State offense again in 2018-19. Hirose had a goal and two assists in last Saturday’s Spartan upset 4-2 win in Minnesota.

No. 5 Ohio State at Minnesota (Fri./Sat.)

Rensselaer at No. 8 Notre Dame (Fri./Sat.)

No. 6 Penn State at Wisconsin (Fri./Sat.)

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