The NCAA unveiled its 2012 tournament field on Sunday, and the MSU hockey team has a new lease on life.
The Spartans (19-15-4 overall, 14-11-3-2 CCHA) earned a bid as the No. 4 seed in the East Region in the 2012 NCAA Tournament and will open against Eastern College Athletic Conference champion and No. 1-seed Union on Friday in Bridgeport, Conn. With the bid, the Spartans rank fourth in all-time tournament appearances with 27 and are in the tournament for the first time since 2008.
Following last weekend’s sweep by Miami (Ohio) in the CCHA Tournament that took the destiny of an NCAA bid out of MSU’s hands, head coach Tom Anastos said his team is ready for the opportunity this time around.
“We didn’t want to end our season with the sweep that we had at Miami, and this gives us another chance, gives us a second life,” Anastos said. “We’ve been practicing all week, practices have been good. But now, I think practices will be even better because we know we’re in.”
After the results of last weekend, the Spartans held an RPI of .5364, which was good for a tie for 14th in the PairWise Rankings with a week of waiting to determine their fate. Along with beneficial wins from North Dakota and Boston College, the Spartans were helped by Union, who defeated Harvard 3-1 in the ECAC Hockey championship game.
In Anastos’ first season as head coach, the Spartans boasted a strong NCAA résumé with the second toughest strength of schedule in the country behind Notre Dame. MSU also played 17 games against the 16 teams in the field, including a No. 1-seed Boston College, No. 2-seed Michigan and No. 4-seed Miami (Ohio).
But simply making the tournament isn’t enough to put a cap on the season, junior forward Anthony Hayes said. With a chance to earn the program’s first playoff win in more than four years and advance to the Frozen Four in Tampa, Fla., Hayes said the Spartans need to control the mental game as much as the physical game on the ice.
“We’re already thinking about what we have to do to get past Union,” Hayes said. “We’ve been worried about it since we started practicing since we got back from Miami. We were working toward a goal the entire time, and now to have it come to fruition, that’s awesome. We have a goal, and we haven’t reached it yet.”