Playing in what was possibly their last game at Munn Ice Arena Feb. 16, the MSU hockey seniors stepped off the ice on a different note than those in recent memory.
The senior night tribute to the Spartans’ trio of seniors followed a critical late-season game and honored the class’s contributions to the rebuilding of the program.
The four-year veterans Cody Milan, Zach Osburn and Brennan Sanford lifted their sticks as they saluted the packed Munn stands before kissing the Spartan at center ice.
This time, the student section that traditionally joins the Spartans after senior day filled center ice more substantially than in recent years, pointing to the growth of Spartan hockey and the culture surrounding it.
“Bringing a culture to Michigan State, that hardworking culture, that winning culture, competitive culture,” senior forward Milan said. “The young guys that came in this year — we’re just trying to show them the ropes. I think the guys beside me and myself — we’ve done a pretty good job. We put blood, sweat and tears into this program.”
Michigan State coach Danton Cole spoke on his senior class postgame, reflecting on their play during their final regular season home game as a testament to their resolve.
“Sometimes it’s a hard night to play in,” Cole said. “It’s too emotional or you don’t have energy because of that. But I thought all three of those guys worked their tails off. I don’t know if this is the last game. It doesn’t have to be. … But if it was, I was glad those guys played like that.”
As the program totaled just nine wins two years ago, the senior class of Milan, Sanford and Osburn — sophomores at the time — fueled the culture change of MSU hockey to this point.
Although he described the senior night loss of 5-3 as a “bump in the road,” redshirt junior defenseman Jerad Rosburg put the program’s revival into perspective. Even from its position just one short year ago, MSU hockey has taken strides unexpected by many – except those in the locker room.
“Coming from where we were last year, at this point we weren’t fighting for anything,” Rosburg said. “It was more pride. I think the fact that we’re in the battle, in the race for home ice is huge. It shows all the hard work that we’ve put in during the season, last season, over the summer, all the preparations that we’ve done. It shows just how far this program has come.”
After enduring the loss in a game as crucial as any this season, Milan, Sanford and Osburn met at center ice to sing the fight song together for the final time.
Now in sixth place in the Big Ten, the Spartans’ chances to play at home one more time remains slim. Osburn, who was fighting tears postgame, put the night in perspective himself.
“If all the dominoes fall in the right spot, then we might get the chance to play here again,” Osburn said. “That’s what we’re looking forward to. But just that idea in the back of your mind that this might be the last time I’m going to step off that ice, it’s pretty hard to take in.”
This senior class has forged an unparalleled bond through helping the program regain its standing within the conference. Rosburg embraced Osburn at center ice amidst the emotions, as the fourth-year junior — although not exiting with the seniors — had a strong message for the class altogether.
“At the end there, I told him I loved them,” Rosburg said. “Even after this season, we’ve still got a lifetime ahead of us all being best friends and being there for each other. It’ll be that way until the day we die. … I couldn’t ask for a better three guys to spend my four years with.”