The dust has cleared and the CCHA first-round playoff matchups have been determined.
After being swept by No. 2 Notre Dame this weekend, the MSU hockey team will travel to Marquette to take on Northern Michigan in a best-of-three series starting Friday night.
The Spartans (10-21-5 overall, 7-17-4-3 CCHA) finished the regular season in 11th place and will have to win the CCHA Tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve never had the CCHA playoffs mean this much,” senior goaltender Jeff Lerg said.
“Usually it’s just a tune-up for us before the NCAA Tournament. Now it’s do-or-die.”
After losing 5-0 Friday night in South Bend, Ind., the Spartans bounced back and gave the Irish all they could handle in Saturday’s 2-1 loss on Senior Night at Munn Ice Arena.
Sophomore defenseman Jeff Petry was pleased with the way the Spartans reacted after Friday’s blowout loss.
“We had some emotion with the seniors because it’s their last time playing here,” Petry said. “We were trying to get one for them and get some momentum going into the playoffs.”
In Friday’s 5-0 road defeat, Lerg didn’t play because of a leg injury he suffered on Wednesday while taking shots on the team’s day off.
Although Lerg wasn’t 100 percent Saturday, the captain wasn’t about to miss out on Senior Night.
In front of a sold-out crowd in his last career game at Munn Ice Arena, Lerg broke the CCHA all-time saves record and jumped into second place in the NCAA all-time saves list.
“I think it was just kind of the cherry on top,” Lerg said. “I’ve had a pretty fun career here. I’m proud of myself and I’m happy that the coaches gave me the opportunity to do that.”
After the game, both MSU head coach Rick Comley and Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson congratulated Lerg during the ceremonial handshake between the two teams.
“You learn to respect players that do things the right way, regardless if they are your players,” Jackson said. “I learned to respect Jeff Lerg as a player and as a person. I wanted to congratulate him and tell him he would have fit right in with us, too.”
Midway through Saturday’s game, the Spartans lost one of their top offensive weapons, as sophomore forward Andrew Rowe left the game with a shoulder injury.
While Rowe’s diagnosis is unknown, Comley fears it might be another long-term injury to add to the already lengthy list of players out for the season.
“That’s just another dagger as far as talent,” Comley said. “We are playing guys on our top two lines who couldn’t make our lineup at the beginning of the year. They are giving us what they have, but there are just a bunch of them that aren’t capable of contributing. The package is not there.”
Despite the loss, Petry said he felt good about the way his team competed against one of the best teams in the country and hopes to build off Saturday as the team prepares for the playoffs.
“We just have to take the positives out of this game and the past couple weeks and come together and build off the good things,” he said. “We have to learn from the mistakes and just go out and play.”