FSU ready to take on Spartans

BIG RAPIDS — After a disappointing season in 2010-11, Michigan State hockey appears to be rebuilding in the right direction. That doesn’t come as a surprise to Ferris State hockey coach Bob Daniels.

The Spartans (13-9-4, 8-7-3) head into Ewigleben Ice Arena this weekend to take on the Bulldogs, who have been on a roll over the last three weekends — going undefeated in their last six contests. The matchup will feature two teams that have had success doing similar things, Daniels noted. Today and Saturday’s games start at 7:05 p.m.

BIG WEEKEND: Ferris State center Matt Kirzinger looks to put the puck on net against Alaska earlier this season. Kirzinger and the Bulldogs will host Michigan State today and Saturday at Ewigleben Ice Arena. The Bulldogs are undefeated in their last six contests. (Pioneer file photo)

“On defense they’ve got Torey Krug (six goals, 12 assists), who is our equivalent of Chad Billins in that he logs a lot of minutes and scores points,” he said. “He’s the backbone of their defense. They also have two very good goaltenders, like us. In a lot of ways, their strengths are similar to our own.”

MSU’s top two lines are as good as any in the league, Daniels said, giving the Spartans one of the deeper teams in the league.

The Spartans are led by forward Brett Perlini (seven goals, 13 assists) on its first line, while Lee Reimer (eight goals, 17 assists) heads the second line at forward.

“They’ve got two No. 1 lines, in my opinion,” Daniels said. “Both of those lines would be first lines on a lot of teams throughout the country. I think it speaks to the good depth that they have as a team.”

Although MSU sits at eighth in the CCHA standings, 2011 has seen the team take steps forward under new head coach Tom Anastos, who had served as commissioner of the CCHA prior to accepting the job as coach, Daniels said.

“(Anastos has) done an outstanding job so far,” he said. “They’ve really bought in to the things Tom is trying to sell. There’s a new-found excitement within the program.”

The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have been rolling heading into the weekend series, including taking five out of six points against CCHA-leading Ohio State on the road last weekend.

It’s not difficult to understand what has gone right for the Bulldogs as of late. FSU scored four power play goals in the two-game series against the Buckeyes after struggling with the man advantage in recent weeks.

Against OSU, Ferris State defenseman and senior captain Chad Billins said it was good to see the team take a step forward on special teams.

“Specialty teams is what it really came down to the whole weekend,” he said. “We haven’t been as successful on the penalty kill or power play as of late, so it was nice to see both of them get turned around.”

Billins said he was happy to see offensive lines starting to produce at a high rate in recent weeks. It hasn’t been one or two players that have stepped up, either.

“Some lines are really starting to click,” he said. “It’s good to see some different people stepping up and producing,” he said. “But it comes down to systems play and goaltending. Both (Taylor Nelson and CJ Motte) are playing well this year, and when your goalies are playing well, you’re going to have success.”

Daniels said the new line of Matthew Kirzinger (six goals, 14 assists), Garrett Thompson (six goals, seven assists) and Jordie Johnston (14 goals, nine assists), who ranks second in the CCHA in goals scored, has energized the Bulldogs’ offense in recent weeks.

The line was discovered when Johnston and Kirzinger flip-flopped positions (Kirzinger to center, Johnston to left wing) to be on the same line. The pair, along with the emergence of Thompson, have equated to FSU’s most productive line over the last six games.

“We’re really happy with that line right now,” he said. “Garrett (Thompson) has been consistent for us, and Johnston and Kirzinger have worked well together. They both seem comfortable in their new positions.”

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