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Michigan State at Minnesota Pregame Reading & Line Combinations (February 26)

Minnesota defensemen Mike Reilly (5) and Ryan Collins (6)
Minnesota defensemen Mike Reilly (5) and Ryan Collins (6)
Matt Christians

Who: Michigan State at Minnesota in the first of a two-game series at Mariucci Arena

When: 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m. CT

TV: BTN (Dan Kelly, Ben Clymer and Jamie Hersch)

Radio: My Talk 107.1 in the Twin Cities (Wally Shaver and Frank Mazzocco) and WVFN 730 AM for East Lansing (Scott Moore and Rob Woodward)

Stream: BTN2Go

SB Nation Sites: The Only Colors (Michigan State), The Daily Gopher (Minnesota)

Pregame Reading Links:

-I wrote about junior defenseman Brady Skjei and his growing role.

-The Daily Gopher covers Make A Wish kid Gabe Bartlett getting a chance to suit up yesterday. What an awesome story!

-Jeremy Dewar from The Only Colors previews the weekend from the Spartans perspective.

-News and notes from Tuesday's Gopher media availability.

-The Pairwise Rankings Explained Vox-style.

With one more win Don Lucia can tie an all-time Gopher great.

Lucia currently has 389 victories and is one away from tying Doug Woog for the most by one coach in University of Minnesota men's hockey history. The head coach, who won national titles in 2002 and 2003 and coming off a national runners-up performance, is in his 16th season behind the Gopher bench. (He's also one more of those away from tying Herb Brooks. Just that's not happening this weekend.)

Minnesota hosts Michigan State on a special Thursday-Friday college hockey series. The two teams are separated by two points in the Big Ten standings with three weekends remaining, making every game that much more important. Michigan is tied with the Gophers with 27 points and Penn State is tied with the Spartans

There is a large difference in the Pairwise rankings between the two (Minnesota is 10th vs. Michigan State being 33rd), which leads to the games - especially at home, where Minnesota is 11-2-1 this season - having heavy implications for the Gophers' Pairwise standing. Minnesota likely needs to win 4 of the remaining 6 games if it doesn't want to worry about an at-large bid. With home series against both teams right below it remaining, that isn't an easy task.

3 Opposing Players to Watch

Author's note: I did this last week for Penn State and am now doing so for Minnesota's opponent this week Michigan State. One more and this can be considered a true weekly feature.

Jake Hildebrand, Jr. G (#30)

It almost pains me to say that Jake Hildebrand is the Big Ten's best kept secret because I feel like I say that every time Jake Hildebrand gets brought up on this site. I don't like to be reminded about my failures. The lack of attention doesn't matter to him - as Hildebrand told SB Nation College Hockey before the season he would rather be one of the guys - but Michigan State's goalie is someone to pay attention.

The junior goaltender has been among college hockey's best goalies the last two months, posting a .950 save percentage to lead the nation in that time. He has three shutouts and has been tough to beat since Minnesota scored five goals on Michigan State in East Lansing December 5th. (Michigan State came back to tie Minnesota 3-3 the next night and won the ensuing shootout. Which brings us to another thing - Hildebrand is 3 for 3 in shootouts versus the Gophers in his career.)

"They're obviously much improved this year. And with the way that they can defend, and their goaltending, I could easily see them having a great chance in the Big Ten Tournament to win it," Lucia said mid-week.

With an experienced blue line that features four juniors and New Jersey Devils 2nd round pick Josh Jacobs, Michigan State and Hildebrand know the team's strength.

"It's really exciting. My freshman year I think we had 4 freshmen defensemen playing every night. Now that everybody is a junior it's nice to have an experienced D core and a guy like Josh Jacobs comes in, a draft pick - a high NHL draft pick at that - and it's very exciting," Hildebrand told SB Nation College Hockey before the season. "You know he's going to come in and be a difference maker and it's nice to have a guy like that playing."

Mackenzie MacEachern, So. F (#15) (St. Louis Blues draft pick)

Besides having the classiest alliterative name in the Big Ten (or the one most likely to show up in a Jane Austen novel), MacEachern leads the Spartans with 10 goals. The sophomore from Troy, Michigan had a hat trick against Penn State two weeks ago, finishing the weekend with four goals and an assist. He was named the #1 star in the NCAA for his efforts.

The 6'2", 199 lbs forward possesses a bit of everything. He has the hands, shot and speed to be a scorer, the size of a power forward if he so chooses and vision to allow playmaking.

Michael Ferrantino, Jr. F (#20)

Ferrantino is Michigan State's captain. He got off to a hot start this year with seven goals before the first Minnesota series, but since then has struggled offensively. Currently Ferrantino is on an eight-game goalless streak, however, he lends himself to several other factors on both ends of the ice.

HM: Carson Gatt (Fr. D), Dylan Pavelek (Fr. F)

You won't see either. Both players will not be playing after being suspended indefinitely by head coach Tom Anastos.

Brent Darnell did score twice against the Gophers the last time the two teams played.

Minnesotans: 1 - John Draeger (#7) (Fairbault, MN - Minnesota Wild draft pick)

Line Combinations

Minnesota is using the same lines from Saturday's loss with one exception. Adam Wilcox is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury so freshman Nick Lehr will make his first official start. The Roseville, MN native  has only made one appearance this season when he stopped 16 of 18 shots in a 7-5 loss to Michigan in relief of Wilcox.

Freshman defenseman Jack Glover, playing on the fourth line with Christian Isackson and A.J. Michaelson, had a little bit more time to practice as a forward after Lucia wanted to get him some more playing time.

Michigan State, meanwhile, has the same lineup it did for Saturday's win against Wisconsin. (Both Gatt and Pavelek were not in for that one either.) Hildebrand has started every game this season and looks to continue to be doing so. The only change in terms of lines is that Villiam Haag is moved up to the third line from the fourth in place of David Bondra.

University of Minnesota Golden Gophers

Forwards:

Leon Bristedt (#18) - Kyle Rau (#7) - Hudson Fasching (#24)

Sam Warning (#11) - Travis Boyd (#22) - Seth Ambroz (#17)

Taylor Cammarata (#13) - Justin Kloos (#25) - Vinni Lettieri (#19)

AJ Michaelson (#15) - Christian Isackson (#26) - Jack Glover (#3)

Scratched: Robin Hoglund (#29), Connor Reilly (#21, injured), Mitch Roegge (#27), Ryan Reilly (#9)

Defense

Brady Skjei (#2) - Ryan Collins (#6)

Mike Reilly (#5) - Jake Bischoff (#28)

Ben Marshall (#10) - Michael Brodzinski (#20)

Scratched: Steve Johnson (#4)

Goaltenders: (starter in bold)

Adam Wilcox (#32)

Nick Lehr (#34)

Ryan Coyne (#31)

Michigan State University Spartans

Forwards

Ryan Keller (#12) - Michael Ferrantino (#20) - Joe Cox (#21)

Mackenzie MacEachern (#15) - Matt DeBlouw (#19) - Matt Berry (#27)

Villiam Haag (#26) - Thomas Ebbing (#28) - Brent Darnell (#25)

David Bondra (#92) - Connor Wood (#9) - JT Stenglein (#22)

Scratches: Tanner Sorenson (#10), Dylan Pavelek (#14), Justin Hoomaian (#24)

Defense

Travis Walsh (#4) - Josh Jacobs (#8)

Ron Boyd (#5) - John Draeger (#7)

Brock Krygier (#17) - Rhett Holland (#11)

Scratches: Chris Knudson (#6), Carson Gatt (#18)

Goaltenders (Starter in bold)

Jake Hildebrand (#30)

Edwin Minney (#45)

Follow: Nate Wells is live from Mariucci Arena and will be providing updates. Follow him on Twitter @gopherstate.

Updated: 6:35 p.m CT with news about Wilcox.

Updated again at 7:15 p.m. CT with Michigan State's lines.