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Big Ten Notebook: Spartans battling foes on the ice, and raising cancer awareness off the ice

A month-long effort by the Michigan State hockey program netted more than $20K for the cancer fight. Also, a renewed women's hockey push at Michigan, and a new era for the Great Lakes Invitational.

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Two Michigan State hockey fans displayed their sign honoring those affected by cancer during the program's month-long Spartan Hockey Strong effort to raise awareness and funds for the fight against cancer. The displayed happened during a Spartans game vs. Wisconsin on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022 at Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing, Mich.
Rey Del Rio / Del Rio Images

EAST LANSING, Mich. — There was some exemplary work done on the ice in November, when first-year head coach Adam Nightingale directed the Michigan State Spartans to a 7-1-0 record and vaulted them solidly into the NCAA playoff picture. At the same time, the work done by the Spartans and their fans off the ice served to remember those who have battled cancer, and are currently fighting this deadly monster.

MSU hockey implemented a campaign called “Spartan Hockey Strong” last month, designed to increase awareness of cancer and give the Spartans hockey family and community a chance to honor and remember those impacted by the disease.

In addition, $1 from each Spartan hockey ticket sold in the month was donated by the school’s athletic department to Brandon’s Defense Foundation, which is a charity that funds cancer research and provides resources to families with children battling cancer. In total, the Spartan Hockey Strong Campaign raised $21,352 which was donated to Brandon’s Defense.

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Michigan State goalie Jon Mor's helmet displayed a lavender Spartan Hockey Strong sticker as he warmed up prior to a Saturday, November 5, 2022 game versus Wisconsin at Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing, Mich.
Rey Del Rio / Del Rio Images

The most visible element of the effort came at the Spartans’ four home games during November. Signs bearing the words “Today I Honor” were available for fans to fill out with the names of those who we have lost, those who are currently battling cancer, those who have survived cancer and the caregivers who support the fight. Spartans players, staff and coaches also participated, with the team wearing helmet stickers and the support staff donning lapel pins with the Spartan Hockey Strong logo. The hundreds of “Today I Honor” signs filled out by fans were displayed on an Honor Wall inside Munn Ice Arena. The first 500 fans attending three Spartans home games also received pucks with the words “Strength,” “Honor,” and “Courage.”

Brandon’s Defense is named in honor of Brandon Gordon , a teenage hockey player from DeWitt, Michigan, who was battling childhood cancer during the Spartans’ run to the 2007 NCAA title, and spent significant time with the team that season. Brandon’s fight ended in early 2009, and the charity was launched later that year.


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Michigan women's hockey teammates Miki Rubin (left) and Mariah Evans (right) looked for the puck during a AHCA game versus Rhode Island on Friday, December 9, 2022 at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Troy Anderson / @andytroyerson

Big name calls for Michigan to add women’s hockey

Nothing “real” has happened yet, but athletic department officials at Northern Michigan University have talked most seriously about that school becoming the state’s first to offer varsity women’s hockey at the Division I level. Further downstate, the social media world has been abuzz at the University of Michigan with efforts aimed at helping the current Wolverines club team, and pushing for varsity women’s hockey in Ann Arbor down the road.

In November, the coach of the Wolverines’ ACHA Division I women’s program led a successful online effort to raise $20,000 which will fund the team’s ice time bill at Yost Ice Arena this season. And shortly thereafter, a renowned Wolverines men’s hockey alumnus called upon his alma mater to get serious about women’s hockey.

Mike Komisarek, who retired nearly a decade ago after playing close to 600 games on defense in the NHL, was a student assistant coach at Michigan for two seasons while he finished his degree, and now works in player development with the Vancouver Canucks. He went on Twitter to call out Michigan’s athletic director and school president, among others, for the fact that his old school does not offer women’s hockey as a varsity sport.

In what may be a sign that he is onboard with the idea, University of Michigan President Santa Ono Tweeted out the team’s fundraising link and called for Wolverines fans to support the effort.

In the run-up to the Wolverines men going to the Frozen Four last season, Liza Cushnir of the Michigan Daily did a deep dive on the women’s team at Michigan, noting that of the $57,000 in expenses they had last season, the school covered $500, which is normal for club sports. There is a sense that in a hockey-crazy state like Michigan, and at a school like the University of Michigan, which has been a men’s hockey powerhouse since NCAA hockey became a thing shortly after World War II, there is potential to be competitive in short order.

Per Cushnir’s story, the school last seriously considered the addition of women’s hockey as a varsity sport about the time the Wolverines men were winning the 1996 NCAA title, but opted for adding women’s water polo instead.

According to Jenna Trubiano, who coaches the Wolverines, 18 of the 29 currently rostered players are from the state of Michigan. She added that it is not uncommon for players from other D-I programs to transfer and join the club, wanting to continue playing hockey while they study at Michigan, which is one of the Big Ten’s more renowned academic institutions.


Currently, Big Ten members Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State include women’s hockey as a varsity sport.

In 2012, head coach Mel Pearson (far right) and goalie coach Steve Shields (far left) helped direct Michigan Tech to the championship of the Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
Contributed / Michigan Tech Athletics

New era begins for the GLI

None of today’s college hockey players, and several of today’s college hockey coaches, had not been born in 1973, which is the last time the Great Lakes Invitational was played without Michigan participating. A new era for college hockey’s most renowned holiday tournament will begin on Dec. 27 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Michigan Tech has hosted the four-team tournament since it began in 1965, and in most years, the games have been played in the Detroit Red Wings’ home rink in the Motor City. That includes Olympia Stadium until 1979, Joe Louis Arena until 2017 and Little Caesar’s Arena more recently. In 2014, the games were played outdoors at Comerica Park, which is the Detroit Tigers’ home ballpark.

Van Andel Arena, home of the Red Wings’ AHL team, will host the games this year, which include Michigan Tech vs. Western Michigan in the opener and Michigan State versus Ferris State in the other semifinal. The Huskies are the defending GLI champions, having won in 2019, the last time a title was awarded.

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Extra pucks

Ohio State’s home-and-home sweep of in-state rival Bowling Green was the only Big Ten action the weekend of Dec. 16-17, and not surprisingly, the Buckeyes were honored accordingly. The conference’s three stars for the week were, in order, Ohio State forward Joe Dunlap, Ohio State defenseman Scooter Brickley and Ohio State forward Davis Burnside.


Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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