|Defenseman Travis Walsh followed in the footsteps of his father, Shawn, and grandfather, Ron Mason, to become a third generation member of the Spartan hockey program. (Michigan State Athletics) |
The decision to play hockey at Michigan State was virtually inevitable for defenseman Travis Walsh — grandson of legendary Spartans coach Ron Mason.
Mason served as coach of the hockey team from 1979 to 2002 and retired as the winningest coach in college hockey history before accepting the position as athletic director at the school from 2002 to 2007. Despite the accomplishments of his grandfather, Walsh said following in Mason’s footsteps was a decision all his own.
“We have a real good relationship,” Walsh said. “I grew up without a father — my dad passed away when I was eight — so he’s always been like a father figure to me I think more than a grandfather. He’s just given me great advice. Growing up, he let me realize I love the game of hockey instead of forcing it on me, so I think that’s important. I think sometimes, you see people forced into it and then they don’t stick with it. We have a great relationship.”
Walsh’s father, Shawn, was a successful college hockey coach in his own right. After serving as an assistant coach under Mason, Walsh’s father became the head coach at Maine where he led the Black Bears to two national championships in 1993 and 1999 including a 42-1-2 record during the 1992-93 season.
In June 2000, Shawn was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer known as renal cell carcinoma. After 15 months of dealing with the disease, Shawn passed away at the age of 46.
“If he would have kept coaching, I think he might’ve even ended up coaching in the NHL,” Travis said about his father. “He was a really great coach and like my grandpa, I’ve heard great things about him and his coaching style.”
Travis said people reminisce about his family’s legacy and the recurring trend always seems to be about how the coaches got the most out of their players. His childhood memories aren’t as detailed, however, as Travis and his older brother Tyler were still pre-teens when their grandfather and father’s coaching careers came to an end.
After moving from Bangor, Maine, to Haslett, Mich., at five years old, Travis and his brother spent a lot of time around Mason’s program at Michigan State. The boys treated Munn Ice Arena as a home away from home, skating twice a week and taking in the Spartans home games.
“I remember his last game he coached here,” Travis said. “Our whole family went out on the ice and that was pretty special. They did a presentation for him and standing ovation, it was a pretty special night. I remember that one the most.”
With a coaching pedigree that combines for 1,323 wins and three national championships, one might assume that Travis would follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. But Travis said he’ll leave that up to Tyler, who currently serves as an intern coach with the U.S. National Development program’s under-17 team.
“I really want to play as long as I can,” Travis said. “I’m not sure I want to get into coaching but you never know.”
MICHIGAN (2-1-0, 10-7-0)
OVERVIEW: The Wolverines will face off against the ninth ranked Minnesota Gophers in a two-game series at Ann Arbor. Michigan is 2-2-0 against USCHO.com Top 20 ranked teams this season after going 5-5-2 last season. The Wolverines defeated the fifth ranked Michigan Tech Huskies 2-1 in the semifinal game of the Great Lakes Invitational thanks to stellar play from goalie Steve Racine who stopped 40-of-41 shots in that game. Racine was also in net for the team’s 8-4 win over seventh ranked UMass-Lowell earlier this season, giving the 23-year-old junior a career record of 7-7-2 against top 20 ranked opponents. Both Michigan and Minnesota will go into the series as the only two teams in the Big Ten with double-digit wins heading into the second weekend of January.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Freshman standout Dylan Larkin will return to the Wolverines lineup following an appearance with Team USA in the IIHF World Junior Championships. While it was a somber performance for USA after losing 5-3 to Russia in the quarterfinals of the playoffs, Larkin — joined by fellow Wolverines J.T. Compher, Tyler Motte and Zach Werenski — had a successful tournament, leading Team USA with five goals and seven points. The 18-year-old returns to Michigan tied for second in points with 16 and has recorded eight points in his last five NCAA regular season games.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. No. 9 Minnesota, Jan. 9-10.
MICHIGAN STATE (1-2-1, 7-10-1)
OVERVIEW: After being idle last weekend, the Spartans will play just one game this weekend, giving the team a 17-day stretch with only one exhibition contest against the U.S. National Development program. Michigan State is 1-4-0 in its previous five meetings with the USNTDP and hasn’t won this showcase since Jan. 4, 2010. Spartans Travis Walsh, Josh Jacobs and Ron Boyd rank in the top 10 in the conference for blocked shots. With a team commitment to clogging up shooting lanes, opponents are averaging just 27.7 shots per game. Additionally, special teams are crucial for Spartan success as the team is 5-2-1 when scoring a power-play goal versus 2-8-0 when being held without a goal on the man advantage.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Michael Ferrantino has been an iron man for the Spartans. Since arriving on campus in East Lansing, Ferrantino has not missed a game appearing in 96 consecutive contests. A native of Plymouth, Mich., Ferrantino leads the team in goals (8) and points (14) in 18 games this season. Despite being held scoreless in two games at the Great Lakes Invitational, the 5-foot-8 forward has a knack for producing as the season progresses. Last season, 13 of his 20 points came in January or later and the Spartans will hope for similar production increases from Ferrantino as the season progresses.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. U.S. National Development Program, Jan. 9.
No. 9 MINNESOTA (1-0-1, 10-5-1)
OVERVIEW: The Gophers failed to make it to the championship game of the Mariucci Classic for the first time since Jan. 2011, but salvaged the tournament with a 3-2 overtime win over the RIT Tigers in the consolation game. Senior forward Kyle Rau — the team’s leading goal scorer — broke the 2-2 tie with 2:34 left in overtime to give Minnesota its 11th win of the season. The Gophers enter the first of two regular season series with the Wolverines, a matchup that favored Minnesota last season with a 3-1-0 record. With the nation’s second ranked power play, the Gophers have converted on 18-of-60 opportunities with Rau(11), defenseman Mike Reilly(11) and forward Justin Kloos(7) sit atop the Big Ten in power-play points.
PLAYER TO WATCH: As returning Big Ten Player of the Year, expectations for goalie Adam Wilcox have not been higher than they are this season. The junior from St. Paul, Minn., has won at least 25 games each of his two previous seasons for Minnesota and has been in net for every game this season as well. With 61 career wins, he is fifth all-time in Minnesota history and will look to improve on those numbers in 2015. Wilcox has posted three shutouts this season with a 2.18 goals-against average and .921 save percentage. He is 3-0-0 in his career against Michigan but 4-4-1 in road games this season.
THIS WEEKEND: at Michigan, Jan. 9-10.
OHIO STATE (1-2-0, 6-9-2)
OVERVIEW: The Buckeyes will close out a grueling seven-game road stretch with back-to-back contests in Happy Valley. Ohio State hasn’t played a home game since Nov. 21, against Michigan State and will look to close out the road trip on a positive note after going 2-2-1 in the previous five games. Playing away from home may not be as taxing as some may think. The Buckeyes — averaging 2.38 goals per game at home — are averaging 3.38 goals per game on the road including eight goals in a two-game series with Mercyhurst last weekend. Ohio State has scored three or more goals in three of the last four games and the team has a 6-1-1 record when reaching that plateau.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The Big Ten’s First Star of the Week, forward Matt Johnson scored four of Ohio State’s eight goals last weekend and recorded the first hat trick of his collegiate career in Friday’s 6-3 win over Mercyhurst. Johnson recorded the game-winning goal in that game as well as the first goal in a 2-2 tie the following night, which extends his point streak to five games. With eight goals and 10 points, Johnson has posted career-high numbers in 16 games this season. The senior from Stillwater, Minn., earned alternate captains honors after the Dec. 5 game against Michigan.
THIS WEEKEND: at Penn State, Jan. 9-10.
PENN STATE (3-1-0, 9-6-2)
OVERVIEW: The Nittany Lions appeared in the Three Rivers Classic for a third consecutive season but was the first time that Penn State left the tournament without a win following a 4-2 loss to Robert Morris and a 4-1 loss to Western Michigan. The two-game series with Ohio State will begin a six-game home stand for the Nittany Lions where the team is 5-0-1 at Pegula Ice Arena after going just 4-12-2 there last season. With a relentless offensive attack, Penn State leads the nation with an average of 39.1 shots on goal per game and the second ranked power play in the Big Ten at 23.9 percent. This matchup could prove to be a race to three goals, as the Nittany Lions are 9-2-1 when reaching that mark.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Forward Taylor Holstrom is one of only five players in the Big Ten with both a power-play goal and a shorthanded goal this season. Holstrom’s versatility has led him to a career-high 18 points as a Nittany Lion in 14 games this season. The Mercyhurst transfer is second in the Big Ten with 14 assists and has a 53.2 percent faceoff winning percentage. The redshirt senior from Yorba Linda, Calif., was held scoreless in two games at the Three Rivers Classic but will return to the comfortable confines of Pegula Ice Arena where Holstrom has recorded three goals and 10 points in eight home games this season.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. Ohio State, Jan. 9-10.
WISCONSIN (0-2-0, 2-11-1)
OVERVIEW: Special teams have been key for Wisconsin this season. The Badgers are 2-3-1 when scoring a power-play goal and 2-2-1 when having a perfect night on the penalty kill. Conversely, Wisconsin is 0-8-0 when going without a power-play goal and 0-9-0 when allowing a power-play goal. Senior goalie Joel Rumpel posted a 47-save shutout to earn the Badgers a 2-0 win over fifth ranked Michigan Tech last weekend. The shutout was the 10th of his career, moving Rumpel into second place in Badgers history for most all-time. Strong play in net will be paramount to team success as the Badgers have been outshot in 12-of-14 games including both of its wins this season.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Morgan Zulinick scored the first game-winning goal of his career in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Michigan Tech. the redshirt sophomore scored a power-play goal at the 14:36 mark of the second period and Rumpel took care of the rest in net for Wisconsin. Zulinick’s game-winner extended his goal streak to a career-high four games after having a total of four goals as a freshman last season. The 5-foot-11 forward trails only Grant Besse in points on a young Badgers team that returned 11 skaters from last season.
THIS WEEKEND: vs. No. 2 Boston University, Jan. 9-10.
The Big Ten will descend on Joe Louis Arena for the first time from March 19-21 as the conference’s championship tournament will be staged in Detroit with all five games set to air live on the Big Ten Network. All-session ticket packages, which include one ticket to all five games of the tournament, start at $45, and are now on sale at the JLA box office (313-471-7575), all Ticketmaster (800-745-3000) outlets, and online at OlympiaEntertainment.com.
The top two seeds entering the tournament receive byes through the opening-round games, which will take place March 19 at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. The semifinals are scheduled for March 20 at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., with the championship game set to follow on March 21 at 8 p.m.