The Michigan State hockey team (10-9-1) recently dropped to No. 20 in the USCHO rankings after a disappointing showing at the Great Lakes Invitational (GLI) December 30-31, going 1-1 in the tournament and placing third at Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit.
For a Spartan team that has played more consistently against top competition this season than in previous years, getting more respect nationally will start with beating the teams they are supposed to beat. When the green and white squared off against Michigan Tech in the opener of the GLI Dec. 30, missed opportunities plagued the Spartans and kept them out of the championship game for the fifth year in a row.
While the talent gap between MSU and Michigan Tech isn’t that significant, the players would tell you that it was a game they should have won. The frustration from senior forwards Sam Saliba and Logan Lambdin could be felt as they spoke to the media after the loss, as they tried to find the words to explain their team’s shortcomings.
Entering the third period with a 2-1 lead and a good sense of control on the game, an MSU breakdown in the neutral zone allowed the Huskies to come down the ice and score a shorthanded goal, completely swinging the momentum in their favor.
“You just can’t give up a shorthanded goal like that,” coach Danton Cole said. “Give them credit, they made a nice play (and took a) nice shot, but to get to the spot we were in, guys have to execute. We didn’t at that point and it ended up hurting us in the end.”
Mistakes such as that one could be a deciding factor in how far this team can extend their season in Cole’s third year at the helm.
The Spartans would rebound the next day with a convincing win over Ferris State in a battle for third place, restoring their confidence before heading into the home stretch of the season. Cole stressed to his players before the game that they shouldn’t feel sorry for themselves and disregard the consolation match, but rather view it as an opportunity to bounce back and be better than they were the day before.
“It’s our next game, and that’s the most important game,” Cole said. “That’s kind of how the Big Ten is. You battle through the weekends and you want to get something out of every weekend. If you stumble on Friday, you have to recover and get something the next night. That’s just the way the rest of the season is going to be.”
One game at a time. That’s the mentality MSU will have to live by for the next couple of months if they hope to be one of the 16 teams that will get to compete for an NCAA championship at the season’s end. The Spartans are teetering right around the conversation as one of the top-16 teams in the country, but winning the Big Ten tournament would get them an automatic bid into the dance.
The GLI had a playoff-type atmosphere to it, with fans from each team in large supply. However, it had nowhere near the implications or significance of a conference or NCAA tournament that is soon to be on the horizon for the Spartans. Putting this result behind them and building on the positives will only benefit them when the stakes become higher.
“I think we just have to stick with it,” senior forward Patrick Khodorenko said. “Full 60 minutes all the time. I don’t think there’s a team out there that can really beat us if we pay attention to details all the time. You can’t slip up once or twice per game and expect to win every game.”
Michigan State will get more opportunities to play the best teams in the conference, such as Ohio State and Penn State, as the season continues on. And when the Big Ten Tournament comes around in March, the green and white can look back to that game on Dec. 30 against Michigan Tech, hopefully for their sake as a more refined team ready to make a run and put themselves on the map.
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