It’s Michigan-Michigan State week and the Spartans are ready to showcase college hockey’s top-scoring line when they travel to Ann Arbor on Friday night to face the Wolverines at Yost Arena.
The rematch will be Saturday night Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.
The "KHL Line" consisting of center Patrick Khodorenko and wingers Taro Hirose and Mitchell Lewandowski has played at a high level all season, combining for 44 goals and 110 points.
Hirose, a 5-foot-10, 160-pound junior, is leading the nation with 46 points, including 15 goals. Khodorenko, a 6-0, 210-pound junior, has scored a team-high 16 goals with 33 points, and Lewandowski, a 5-9, 175-pound sophomore from Clarkston, has 13 goals and 31 points.
“It’s pretty fun to be a part of it, and I consider myself very lucky to be able to play with those two guys,” Lewandowski said. “Taro is very dominant with the puck, his vision is top notch and Khodorenko is the workhorse. He’s a big body, very strong on the puck. and we all three can make plays together, and make that extra pass to give us the advantage.”
Hirose already has surpassed his point total of a year ago when he had 12 goals and 42 points in 36 games. Khodorenko has also topped his numbers (13 goals, 32 points) while Lewandowski is closing in on his when he scored a team-high 19 goals with 34 points.
Lewandowski has an eight-game points streak going, scoring a goal in each game last weekend against Wisconsin. The Spartans came away with a 4-1 win Friday and a 2-2 tie Saturday, with Lewandowski scoring a third-period power play goal to pull even despite MSU being outshot, 54-31.
“I credit all of that to my linemates,” Lewandowski said of his points streak. “I don’t think I’ve had an unassisted goal this year. They do a great job of getting me the puck in good areas and making my life a lot easier out there. I have to give credit to my linemates and my teammates for playing great hockey.”
And, the Spartans have been playing well. After years of being in the Big Ten basement, the Spartans are 10-13-5 overall and 6-8-4 in league play, finding themselves in a fourth-place tie with Michigan (10-11-6, 6-7-4) with 24 points and both teams are just three points back of second-place Minnesota.
The Spartans are 4-2-1 in their last seven games.
“After getting back from Christmas break we’ve been playing better hockey, finding ways to win games and taking points out of every weekend," said Lewandowski, "and you know there’s six points available in a weekend so if you walk away with three, four or five it is a good weekend and I think we’ve been doing a good job of that."
Lewandowski, Hirose and Khodorenko have each scored 10 goals in 18 Big Ten games, with each of them scoring a pair of goals in last weekend’s series with Wisconsin.
It was Lewandowski who scored the winner with a goal midway through the third period in a 4-3 win over Michigan at Munn Arena Nov. 30. The teams have also played to a 1-1 tie Dec. 1 at Yost, with the Spartans winning the shootout, and then to a 2-2 overtime tie in the consolation game of the Great Lakes Invitational New Year’s Eve at LCA.
Lewandowski is looking forward to playing the Wolverines again.
“We call it Michigan State week around here, so that gets us going,” Lewandowski said. “It’s really fun to play in the rivalry, and Yost is a cool arena to play in. You’re always going there to prove something. Then, we’ll be playing at Little Caesars Arena and there’s always big crowds, so the boys are all excited.”
Michigan, which advanced to the Frozen Four last season in Mel Pearson’s first year as head coach, is 3-3 in its last six games, splitting series with league-leading Ohio State, Penn State and Minnesota.
The Wolverines are led by sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes (four goals, 25 points) and junior forwards Will Lockwood (11 goals, 21 points) and Jake Slaker (10 goals, 20 points).
Michigan was dealt a big blow when Lockwood suffered a season-ending injury last season in the World Junior Championship. This season, sophomore sensation Josh Norris suffered a season-ending injury in the World Juniors this past December, after scoring 10 goals and 19 points for the Wolverines in 17 games.