The Greatest

Joe Louis Arena’s 10 greatest Michigan-Michigan State moments

Joe Louis Arena 10 greatest Michigan-Michigan State moments
(Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

Joe Louis Arena barely took a decade to become the second home of the Michigan and Michigan State hockey programs alike. By the start of the ’90s, both teams had emerged as simultaneous powerhouses under Red Berenson and the late Ron Mason, respectively.

For partisan and nonpartisan bystanders, no scenario in the Great Lakes State compares to a conflicting takeover of Detroit’s NHL venue. The bid for spiritual one-upmanship between 10,000 maize-and-blue- and 10,000 green-and-white-clad buffs and band members matches the compelling nature of the product between the boards.

Sustaining a tradition that began in 1990-91, the rivalry will hold its 30th and final regular-season renewal in the Red Wings’ 38-year-old mansion Friday.

Add 18 collisions in the Great Lakes Invitational, plus seven CCHA postseason and one Big Ten tournament tilt, and “The Joe” will have hosted 56 Wolverines-Spartans cards. The arena’s hosting rights to the 2017 Big Ten dance leaves open the potential for one more next month.

The matchup’s track record in its ultimate neutral venue makes a tall order out of a fireworks finale. With that said, no generation of talent from either program has failed to plug in every gear on these occasions.

From hard-earned streak-stoppers to riveting rematches with any given form of bragging rights on the line, here are the moments Friday night has to live up to.

Feb. 5, 2016
Want proof that records go the way of Zamboni snow when a genuine rivalry takes a prestigious platform? MSU’s 3-2 thriller on this night yielded ample evidence.

The 2015-16 Spartans were on their way to a 10-23-4 finish, their worst in seven years. The Wolverines, who would go 25-8-5, had swept a home-and-home series the previous month by gaping 9-2 and 6-3 margins.

But MSU’s mutts made their night before a bipartisan sellout mass of 20,067. Joe Cox’s penalty-shot icebreaker and Matt DeBlouw’s overtime strike bookended their only win in the season series.

Feb. 15, 1991
The rivalry was at a critical crossroads by the time it made its regular-season Detroit debut. The follow-up to a spontaneous CCHA semifinal encounter (more on that later) emboldened the notion that both programs were simultaneously competitive for the first time in recent memory.

Dave Starman on college, USA Hockey Greatest college hockey players of all time: Red Berenson

Red Berenson’s Wolverines have already secured the all-time edge against the Spartans in regular-season clashes at Joe Louis Arena. They enter Friday’s tilt with a 14-11-4 head-to-head record in the building. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

To date, Michigan’s 6-5 victory remains the highest-scoring game eligible for this list that ended in a one-goal margin. The Spartans, featuring future NHL mainstays Bryan Smolinski and Jason Wooley, would issue a 6-2 retort on the same surface the next night. But the 1990-91 campaign proved to be an off-year in East Lansing, as MSU missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade.

Conversely, with a freshman class featuring Steve Shields and Aaron Ward, the Wolverines went on to nab their first NCAA bid in 14 years.

1994 GLI final
By repressing their rivals in a 5-4 seesaw thriller, the Wolverines did more than secure their seventh consecutive GLI title. A troika of underclassmen dished up the appetizer for an ornate four-year thrill ride.

Freshman Bill Muckault’s go-ahead tally with 7:34 left in regulation proved the decider. Classmate and workhorse netminder Marty Turco made sure of that. When the score turned to stone, sophomore striker Brendan Morrison claimed his first of three straight GLI MVP prizes.

With Morrison, the Wolverines went on to win back-to-back CCHA tournaments and put in three straight Frozen Four appearances. With Muckault and Turco, they added a fourth, along with a second set of championship rings, in 1998.

2004 GLI final
The Wolverines were one tally away from improving to 3-0-0 in the 2004-05 season series with the Spartans. They were one strike away from ending the program’s eight-year GLI title drought. That tantalizing closeness was their reward for killing six consecutive penalties after initially letting MSU strike first on the evening’s opening special-teams segment.

But missed chances to pad their lead, which they spilled in the second minute of the third period, failed to faze the Spartans. Junior forward Colton Fretter buried the sudden-death decider at 9:24 for a 2-1 triumph.

That made MSU’s fifth late-December crown amidst Michigan’s hex, and fourth at the maize-and-blue’s direct expense. But only 2004 required extra action to complete.

2001 CCHA final
For the first of back-to-back conference championship bouts to close the Berenson-Mason overlap, MSU prevailed to hoist the prize that had just been rechristened the Mason Cup.

College hockey community bid many tough goodbyes in 2016 Ron Mason

Ron Mason guided MSU to eight Great Lakes Invitational titles and 10 CCHA crowns at “The Joe,” claiming four of those 18 championships at the Wolverines’ expense. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The timing of Adam Hall’s long-range slapper that doubled the Spartans’ lead to 2-0 in the final minute of the opening frame was a textbook dagger. Otherworldly goaltender Ryan Miller made good on a light workload, repelling 14 shots in the latter 40 minutes to finalize the 2-0 margin. With that, the sophomore stopper finished his eventual Hobey Baker-winning campaign with 10 goose-eggs.

2011 GLI final
The Wolverines never led until the game’s final fraction of a second, filling two one-goal potholes in the last 10 minutes of regulation before walking off as 3-2 sudden-death victors.

Facing a 1-0 deficit at the 40-minute mark, Michigan more than doubled its shot count in the third period. At 9:14 of what would be a 24-stab siege of Spartans stopper Drew Palmisano, first-year MSU coach Tom Anastos exhausted his timeout with the lead still intact.

A back-and-forth exchange in a 2:20 span upped MSU’s edge to 2-1, but Kevin Lynch reversed the momentum for Michigan again through a 6-on-4 conversion with 50.4 seconds to spare. Blueliner Kevin Clare buried the bragging-rights clincher at 11:44 of the resultant bonus round.

1990 CCHA semifinal
Six years into his tenure, Berenson’s rebuild of the Michigan program hit a key milestone in the program’s first trip to second round of the CCHA tournament. Appropriately, the reward was a semifinal date with Mason’s capstone class — winners of six of the previous eight CCHA playoff laurels.

“The Joe’s” first postseason renewal of the rivalry did nothing but presage the decade-plus that was to come. The up-and-coming Wolverines pushed the regal Spartans to overtime before the latter prevailed, 4-3, their first step toward another title against Lake Superior State.

But the next year, Michigan posted its fourth consecutive winning record and qualified for its first of 23 straight national tournaments. MSU accompanied its foe 10 times in the 12 remaining years of Mason’s tenure.

1997 GLI final
With both teams ranked among the nation’s top five, the Spartans disrupted a dynasty in multiple respects. They recovered from a Wolverine icebreaker on the first play of the game and paced themselves to a back-and-forth 5-3 triumph, denying Michigan what would have been 10 consecutive GLI crowns.

Joe Louis Arena’s 10 greatest Michigan-Michigan State moments

The most recent UM-MSU postseason matchup coincided with Detroit’s first time hosting the Big Ten hockey tournament. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

The Wolverines were coming off three consecutive Frozen Four appearances, including a championship in 1996. They had also won three of the four conference tournaments between 1994 and 1997.

Michigan would go on to claim another NCAA banner the subsequent spring, but the college hockey flags over the JLA pond were already changing colors. MSU went on to nab three more unanswered GLI titles, as well as three of the next four CCHA playoff trophies.

Jan. 27, 2001
Cutting off a program’s nine-year reign in a two-day, four-team tournament is one feat. Working overtime to halt your rival’s 23-game unbeaten tear is another.

The 2000-01 Wolverines pulled off the latter in this regular-season engagement. Entering their first of two pre-scheduled Motor City conventions that winter, the Spartans had gone 20-0-3 since a 2-1 setback versus Nebraska-Omaha on Oct. 20. They had won each of their first seven games in the calendar month, surrendering but one goal in that span.

The big blue behemoth, which brooked its own blanking by MSU’s Miller at home Nov. 4, broke that up starting in the middle frame. They overturned a 1-0 deficit in that stanza, then drew a 3-3 knot via Mike Cammalleri on the first play of the third period. Andy Hilbert struck in the ensuing overtime to stamp the third and final lead change of the night.

2002 CCHA final
It was the second year of the Mason Cup. It was the trophy’s namesake’s final appearance behind a bench in Detroit. It was a rematch of the previous year’s conference final, after which both teams reached the national tournament semifinals. And the icebreaking “Cold War” game at Spartan Stadium in October had amplified the matchup’s profile.

Nothing less than another Wolverine-Spartan showdown was in order on this occasion, and both programs reaffirmed their unspoken trustworthiness with another compelling product. Michigan would raise the upper hand to start each stanza, only to let MSU bury an equalizer on the first two occasions.

But in a tighter third period, which saw each team muster five shots on net, Jed Ortmeyer’s power-play conversion sufficed for the Wolverines to secure a 3-2 victory.

Besides Mason, who subsequently filled MSU’s athletic director vacancy, two celestial players made this their final partaking in the rivalry. Cammalleri, who tallied two assists on the day, and Miller both turned pro with one year of eligibility remaining.

Al Daniel

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