It wasn’t the easiest road to the NCAA Tournament for the MSU hockey team.
Being swept by Miami (Ohio) in the CCHA Tournament exposed all the aspects that head coach Tom Anastos worried about in his maiden voyage with the program.
Even after being tested against the nation’s second toughest strength of schedule this season, the Spartans (19-15-4 overall, 14-11-3-2 CCHA) struggled to be consistent against top talent and fumbled a way a chance to control their own destiny by being outworked and physically dominated at both ends of the ice.
But as ESPN’s John Buccigross read off MSU’s name on the Selection Sunday special, each player, coach and fan at Reno’s Sports Bar and Grill in East Lansing and on couches across the country knew it’s a new season now.
The No. 4-seed Spartans are headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008 and will go up against No. 1-seed Union on Friday in Bridgeport, Conn. The Dutchmen (24-7-7, 14-4-4 ECAC) earned their second Division I appearance to the NCAA Tournament by beating Harvard in the ECAC Hockey Championship on Saturday.
Even as the Spartans prepare to face the nation’s seventh best scoring offense (3.60 goals per game) and the nation’s second best scoring defense (2.10 goals per game), senior forward Trevor Nill said the team feels re-energized by the opportunity to make a run to the Frozen Four.
“We thought we might have been done against Miami (Ohio) there but we have a second wind now and it’s great for all the seniors,” Nill said. “We got such a huge senior class and we wanted to end on a positive note and we have a second chance to do that.”
The Spartans play Union on Friday at 3:00 p.m at Webster Bank Arena. The winner of the game will move on to play the winner of Miami (Ohio) and Massachusetts-Lowell.