COLUMN: A tale of two teams
By Mike Mitchell
Back on Oct. 19th, Western's hockey team headed west to East Lansing, Michigan to play an exhibition game against the Michigan State Spartans.
Call it what you may: Canada versus America; the good guys versus the bad guys. Whatever the description, it was a great hockey game until MSU scored five times in the third period to beat Western 7-2.
This past weekend the Spartans lost the Central Collegiate Hockey Association final to the top-ranked Wolverines from the University of Michigan, 3-1 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Last week, the Mustangs lost to York 5-4 in the provincial semifinal.
So what can be said of these two hockey programs, so close in geography yet so far away in popularity?
Both the Spartans and Mustangs have great goaltending. Western's C.J. Denomme carried a 2.10 GAA with a .900 save percentage in his last nine games while the Spartans' Chad Alban is the best goalie in the CCHA and one of the top in the NCAA with a 2.35 GAA.
Both teams are young but have experience where they need it most.
Both teams have depth at forward. Jason Heywood led the Mustangs with 35 points in 29 games. The Spartans have Mike Yorke, the most valuable player of the American squad at this year's World Junior Championships. He has 44 points in 34 games.
Michigan State scored 137 goals in 37 games, Western 115 in 26.
So what sets these two programs apart? The teams are more similar than different, especially on the ice. All of the statistics show Western to be as good as Michigan State on paper. Unfortunately, it is the comparisons off paper and off the ice which show why these two squads are amazingly different.
For example, MSU students have to walk about five to 10 minutes to get to Munn Arena. Western students don't go to Thompson Arena (the building you pass walking from the Huron Flats parking lot). MSU football generates revenue which is shared by the hockey program. Western hockey has the same equipment bags as the football team.
MSU has a gym for its hockey team, shared with no one. Not to mention the big screen TV, stereo, bikes a nurturing environment for physical conditioning. Western has the communal gym which it shares with all the other varsity athletes on campus.
Athletic scholarships are given to players to play at Michigan State.
Western's hockey players, like the rest of the student body, pay tuition.
MSU alumni donate to the specific program. Western alumni donate money.
Most importantly is the difference in fan and media support. Aside from the fact MSU gets coverage from every media source in East Lansing (not to mention the major Detroit media), MSU has sold out Munn Arena (6,100 capacity) for the last 190 games. The Michigan State fans know players, stats, school songs and are dedicated enough to travel four hours to a game.
Without the campus media at Western, there would be little or no proof the team even exists. Thompson Arena has seen no more than 1,000 people at any given game (hats off to the parents, family and friends of the players).
Athlete by athlete, the Mustang and Spartan hockey teams are the same. But when you compare the hockey programs, the differences are and will always be support. Unless the Mustangs can gain the involvement of fans, a focus of alumni dollars and an increase in local media, the hockey team, or any team for that matter, will never compare to its Michigan counterpart south of the border.