DETROIT – It’s amazing what a four-point game can do to a player’s confidence, especially when said performance comes against an archrival.
Michigan State forward Matt Berry admittedly had a Jack Dawson moment after the Spartans drubbed Michigan before the largest crowd to ever watch a hockey game at Munn Arena in East Lansing. MSU’s 7-2 win, before 7,225 fans, was also its largest margin of victory over the Wolverines in 23 years.
“I was on top of the world after that hat trick,” said Berry, who also had an assist against UM on Nov. 10. “It was the best feeling ever and just the way that I got that hat trick and us beating them that bad it was definitely a great feeling, probably the best hockey moment of my career.”
The four-point night earned the sophomore from Canton, Michigan, a CCHA offensive player of the week honor on Nov. 13. After last weekend, Berry had compiled a team-best 13 points on seven goals and six assists in 14 games. His point total has him tied for fifth among league scorers.
Berry’s fast start is attributed to an elevated comfort level in his second collegiate season.
“I’m definitely more confident with the puck,” said Berry, who collected 19 points as a freshman. “Last year, I didn’t know what to expect, or how the game was in college, but now I know what to expect. I know how other teams are and stuff like that.
“I’m just trying to make plays, and I know what I’m capable of. Just trying to make plays and create offense around the net.”
At every level of his development, whether it was with Little Caesars, Honeybaked, Belle Tire, or the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks, Berry has always excelled around the goal crease, earning him praise as a solid finisher.
“I’ve been told that by coaches in the past, and even this year they’ve been saying, ‘We want you in front of the net more because you’re a good closer,’ ” Berry said. “I mean, I’ve always considered myself more of a goal-scorer than a playmaker, so I try to get to the front of the net and put pucks in, which is what I’ve done for most of my life.”
The Spartans believe that they’ve found a dependable scoring threat in Berry’s line, which includes sophomore Brent Darnell and freshman Matt DeBlouw. The trio has combined for 34 points, while accounting for 14 of the team’s 31 goals.
“I played with Matt a little bit in juniors, so we’ve had a connection since then, and Brent and I grew-up playing against each other and we’ve been good friends,” Berry said. “We talk a lot about what we’re going to do out there and how we’re going to create offense against the other team. It’s really been working for us down low.”
Berry is in a good place, one that he’s aspired to be from an early age. His allegiance to MSU remained strong in the divided household which he grew up in 20-minutes from the UM campus. It was common for spirited debates to arise between him and his mom, who is an Ohio State fan, and his Maize-and-Blue crazy brother.
“It’s funny, my brother Chris is a pretty big Michigan fan and I’ve always been a State fan, so we’ve had pretty heated arguments about which team is better,” Berry said. “My mom went to UM-Dearborn and she was an Ohio State fan because she was born in Ohio. I don’t know – it was something about Michigan State. I’ve always wanted State to win and always wanted to be a part of the Michigan State program.”
It’s not surprising that Berry has had success against MSU’s in-state enemy, scoring five career goals against UM, including two game-winners. And he has at least two more shots this season to add to those career totals against the Wolverines, and maybe a third if both squads reach the championship game of this month’s Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena.
The two-day GLI tourney begins with a pair of semifinal matches on Dec. 29, pitting the Spartans against Western Michigan at 3:30 p.m., following by the Wolverines facing off against Michigan Tech at 7 p.m.
“We’re really excited to be back and try to win the GLI,” Berry said. “Winning the GLI is something that we try to do every year and hopefully we can pull it off this year.”
The championship game is scheduled for Dec. 30 at 7 p.m.
Some call the UM-MSU rivalry the most contentious rivalry in college hockey history. And after his four-point outing, Berry knows the Wolverines will look to shut down his line the next time these two teams face-off.
“I’m sure that they’ll be figuring out ways to try to cover our line, especially since we had such a good night against them,” he said. “They’ll match up with their best D-pairing and we’ll just have to find a way to create offense and some success again.”
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