Lakers, Spartans faceoff for top spot in ACHA’s Central region

GVL Archive / Nicole Lamson
Sophomore Tim Marney controls the puck during a past game.

GVL Archive / Nicole Lamson Sophomore Tim Marney controls the puck during a past game.

Greg Monahan

Approaching the most important weekend of the season, two wins stand between the Grand Valley State University men’s hockey team and a trip to nationals in San Jose, Calif.

The Lakers (13-9-0), winners in six of their last seven, are up against Michigan State University (11-8-1) this weekend with a chance to punch their ticket to the National Championships.

In a system where the top two teams in each region get an automatic entry to nationals, the Lakers, ranked No. 2 in the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s Central Region, can all but guarantee themselves the top spot in the Central with a sweep of Michigan State, after No. 1 Lindenwood lost three games in three days last weekend.

However, if the No. 3 Spartans takes both games from the Lakers, it could be the Spartans packing their bags for California.

“These games are huge for both teams,” said senior goaltender Grant Lyon. “If one team sweeps the other, they jump up in the standings and the other (team) falls, so it’s going to be a pretty even battle.”

The Lakers have struggled with Michigan State in the past, losing five of their last six games against the Spartans over the span of two years. However, the recent tear the Lakers have been on gives the team reason to hope this weekend will be different from years’ past.

“We’ve been playing well since we came back from break,” said penalty-kill specialist Jeremy Christopher. “Coach (Forbes) has been focusing on being more consistent and putting a win streak together, and I think a lot of guys are motivated to do that. We just have to make sure nobody takes any shifts off and as a team we don’t take any periods off, and I think we’ll be happy with how it turns out if we do that.”

In a matchup between two fundamentally different teams, the games will likely be decided by whichever team can dictate the pace of play.

GVSU favors a low-scoring, drag-it-out style of hockey, averaging 4.1 goals per game and giving up a little more than three. The Spartans, on the other hand, average almost six goals per game but are giving up more than four.

With that in mind, Lyon wasn’t shy to put the pressure on his, and GVSU goalie Josh LaVigne’s, shoulders.

“They’re going to come out firing, we’re going to come out firing, and I’m sure it’ll come down to a goaltending battle in both games,” Lyon said. “So (Josh and I) are going to have to be sharp, the defense is going to have to be there, and of course the forwards are going to have to come through and get those goals.”

But even without a sweep, the Lakers will still have a good shot at making nationals, barring an unforeseen late-season collapse. GVSU head coach Mike Forbes said at this point in the season, the Lakers are in a good spot.

“I like this hockey team,” he said. “I’ve liked it from the very beginning of this season, we have a lot of talent, we have a lot of depth, we’ve got good goaltending and we can play good defense. I like where we are, we’ve shown up for big games and there’s no reason this team won’t show up again this weekend.”

The home-and-home series starts on Friday night at 9 p.m. in East Lansing’s Munn Ice Arena. The Lakers will return home Saturday night to Georgetown Ice Arena for an 8 p.m. puck drop to cap off the series. There will be a free shuttle Saturday night from the turf building to the rink for Sibs & Kids participants.

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