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U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame game features marquee college matchup

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GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Michigan State is the defending NCAA hockey champion. North Dakota is the top-ranked team in this year's pre-season polls.

Neither team has an easy start to the season - they're playing each other.

The Spartans and Fighting Sioux meet Saturday in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame game, which is played in conjunction with induction ceremonies for the 2007 class.

"We don't have the chance to ease into the season," North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said.

Sioux players said they are happy to be tested early.

"I think it's good to get your game intensity up right away," senior captain Rylan Kaip of Radville, Sask., said. "It's a good opportunity to make a statement about our team."

Both national hockey polls have North Dakota ranked first and Michigan State third. North Dakota lost to Boston College in last season's NCAA Frozen Four semifinals. The Spartans beat Boston College in the title game.

North Dakota defenceman Chay Genoway said most of his teammates didn't see the Spartans win the championship.

"We were too bummed out to watch," he said. "We felt we should have been there."

There will be several Canadians in the game, including twelve players on the Sioux roster. Chay Genoway and Brent Davidson of Morden, Man., Ryan Martens of Selkirk, Man., Andrew Kozek of Sicamous, B.C., Darcy Zajac of Winnipeg, Ryan Duncan of Calgary, Kaip, Matt Watkins of Aylesbury, Sask., Matt Frattin of Edmonton, Brad Malone of Miramichi, N.B., Kyle Radke of Bashaw, Alta., and Anthony Grieco of Brampton, Ont., all play for North Dakota.

Michigan State has four Canadians on its roster - forwards Jay Sprague of Georgetown, Ont., Nick Sucharski of Toronto and Tim Crowder of Victoria along with defenceman Daniel Vukovic of North York, Ont.

North Dakota has reached the Frozen Four the past three years and five times in the past eight years, but has not won a national title since 2000.

The Fighting Sioux don't see Saturday's game as a way to gain redemption for the lost opportunity in April. Instead, they're viewing it as way to measure this year's team.

"The expectations for us are high," defenceman Taylor Chorney said. "I guess we'll find early if we're for real."

When Michigan State released its 2007-08 schedule earlier this year, Spartans coach Rick Comley said games against WCHA teams like North Dakota "are significant games that are good for our players. As coaches, it serves as a great gauge of where you are as a team."

The Spartans return 20 of their 26 letterwinners, including their top four scorers in Tim Kennedy, Bryan Lerg, Justin Abdelkader and Chris Mueller. Goaltender Jeff Lerg, who made 29 saves in the national title game, also is back.

"They have the core of their team back," Hakstol said. "As the defending national champion, that team also obviously knows how to win."

North Dakota also returns most of last year's squad, including Hobey Baker winner and leading scorer Duncan, second-leading scorer T.J. Oshie, goalie Jean-Philippe Lamoureux and five of the six top Fighting Sioux defenceman.

Hakstol said nonconference results between national contenders play major roles in the selection of the 16 teams for the NCAA tournament.

"This game will carry a lot of weight at the end of the season," he said. "So we want a good start and to get a win in the bank."

Former NHL players Aaron Broten, Bobby Carpenter and John Vanbiesbrouck and long-time Michigan Tech coach John MacInnes are being inducted into the Hall of Fame on Friday.

"What a great way to start the season - playing the national champions and having all of these great names in the world of hockey in Grand Forks this weekend," Hakstol said.

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