The final week of the regular season is upon us, and the Michigan State hockey team (14-17-1) is riding a four-game losing streak heading into the finale against Notre Dame (14-12-6) this weekend.
After a strong start headlined by some quality wins earlier this season, the Spartans have dropped in the Big Ten Standings, PairWise rankings and national polls, making an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament unlikely. This is the most adversity the team has faced all season, including a majority of the team being sick coming into last weekend’s series against Ohio State, but they still have time to catch fire heading into the Big Ten Tournament.
“We just keep focus on the next day,” senior defenseman Butrus Ghafari said. “We always say, ‘the next game is the most important game.’ It doesn’t matter what happened in the past, we just control the future. So we’re just focused on one day at a time and getting better for the next game.”
Most of the team is back to full health, and they’re going to need all hands on deck this weekend, when they travel to South Bend to take on a Fighting Irish team that they’re only four points behind in the Big Ten Standings.
“I got lucky,” junior forward Mitchell Lewandowski said in regards to not getting sick. “It’s one of those things I’ve never been a part of, something as wild as that. I wasn’t sick, I felt fine all week. I just tried to stay away from most of the guys when I could. ... Everyone’s back to healthy. I think it was more of a 24 to 48 hour thing, rather than a week or two long term.”
To get back on track, it will take veteran players such as Lewandowski to step up and make plays. Lewandowski has played well on a line this year with senior Patrick Khodorenko, collecting eight goals and 12 assists. His 20 points on the season rank second on the team, 12 behind Khodorenko. The green and white are losing nine seniors after this season, meaning Lewandowski will be called upon to take up an elevated leadership role. For now, he is trying his best to navigate the Spartans back to their winning ways.
“You could be on a four game winning streak and you still want to have the same approach,” Lewandowski said. “Just next game mentality, wanting to get better everyday. The four game skid, it is what it is … (we’re) just worried about Friday and Saturday now.”
Regardless of the team’s recent struggles, they still have a chance to gain home ice advantage for the Big Ten Tournament, which is a position they haven’t been familiar with this late into the season in years past.
“My last two years here I think we were sitting in seventh place (at this point),” Lewandowski said. “By this point, we were talking about how we needed to win the Big Ten to make the tournament. It’s a different feel, different vibe. The skid is one thing, but the position we’re in now, we’ve worked for all year.”