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Know Your Enemy: No. 17 Penn State Hockey vs. Michigan State

No. 17 Penn State men’s hockey (16-10-2, 8-9-1 Big Ten) will spend THON weekend in East Lansing for its series against Michigan State at Munn Ice Arena.

The puck drops at 7 p.m. for Friday and Saturday’s pivotal Big Ten matchups. The Nittany Lions and Spartans played to a split last month at Pegula Ice Arena, with Penn State coming out on top 4-2 in the first game before falling 6-4 one night later.

Guy Gadowsky’s team will take on an opponent firmly on the outside looking into the NCAA tournament equation; Michigan State currently holds the No. 28 spot in the PairWise rankings.

The Team

Michigan State (10-15-5, 6-10-4 Big Ten) hasn’t qualified for the big dance since the 2011-12 season, a drought that’s likely to last for at least another season.

Led by second-year head coach Danton Cole, the Spartans have lost two consecutive games and have just one win in their past six contests. They suffered a sweep at the hands of Michigan after sandwiching a 4-1 victory over Wisconsin between a pair of ties to No. 15 Notre Dame and the Badgers.

You can summarize the story of Michigan State’s season by listing three names: Taro Hirose, Patrick Khodorenko, and Mitchell Lewandowski.


Michigan State’s deadly top forward trio of Hirose, Khodorenko, and Lewandowski has terrorized opposing defenses this season. Hirose leads the nation in assists (32) and points (47). His lead isn’t particularly narrow, either; he has seven more assists and eight more points than the second-best player in both categories.

Khodorenko leads the Spartans with 16 goals, while Lewandowski is tied for second on the team along with Hirose with 15. The trio combined for four goals during the weekend split against Penn State on January 11 and 12.

The team has scored 87 goals this season. 46 (read: more than half) of them have been scored by the top line. Senior Cody Milan is the only other Spartan forward with more than 15 points this season, and he’s joined only by junior Logan Lambdin in the 10-plus point category.

Defense & Goaltending

Michigan State’s defense has been its achilles heel this season. It’s the ninth-worst outfit in college hockey with a dismal 3.47 goals against per game.

Freshman Drew DeRidder and junior John Lethemon have split time in goal, and neither has put together a particularly good season. DeRidder’s .910 save percentage is solid, but his 3-7-5 record and 3.12 goals-against average aren’t up to that standard. Meanwhile, Lethemon’s 7-8-0 record is better, but his 3.51 goals-against average and .896 save percentage are brutal.

As far as the blue line is concerned, freshman Dennis Cesana is putting together a nice rookie year. He’s fourth on the team behind the KHL line with 22 points. He and his partner, Gerad Rosburg, are the only defensemen on the team with a positive plus-minus rating this season.


Danton Cole’s squad is a perfect example of a one-line team. However, that one line is among the deadliest in college hockey, and it gave Penn State fits when Guy Gadowsky matched up his best shutdown unit against it at Pegula Ice Arena.

Because Michigan State is the home team, it gets last change, which means Cole changes his lines after Gadowsky does following whistles. In other words, he can avoid matching up the “KHL” line against big center Nikita Pavlychev this weekend.

The Nittany Lions should easily sweep the Spartans aside this weekend on paper, but I think the “KHL” line will single-handedly salvage a split. Michigan State wins 5-4 on Friday, but Penn State should bounce back to win 6-3 on Saturday.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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