The stage was set.
Michigan State versus Michigan, one of the oldest rivalries in all of sports. Two opposing student sections who can’t stand each other, trading jabs throughout the entire course of the game. New MSU football coach Mel Tucker was one of the 6,796 in attendance inside a sold-out Munn Ice Arena that’s had a lively atmosphere all season.
The implications were present as well. Both teams were jockeying for a better position in the Big Ten standings as the regular season draws to a close. The Spartans, who have one of the toughest schedules in the country, don’t have much room for error as they push for their first NCAA tournament bid since 2012. The Wolverines were swept by the Spartans earlier in the season and were seeking revenge.
All of this led to a deflating 5-1 loss for MSU. Senior captain Sam Saliba called it the worst performance of the season, and it couldn’t have come at a more inconvenient time. But hope is not lost.
It starts with a bounce-back performance on Monday night. The Spartans will meet their in-state rival once again Monday in Detroit, Michigan for the final time this season, and the team needs a better effort after having a couple days off in between games.
Coach Danton Cole juggled up the lines coming into Friday's game, putting freshman Josh Nodler on the top line with senior Patrick Khodorenko and junior Mitchell Lewandowski. Saliba moved back to center and played in between senior Logan Lambdin and freshman Nicolas Muller. Freshman Jagger Joshua was bumped down to the fourth line, which is now centered by sophomore Mitchell Mattson and includes sophomore Adam Goodsir on the wing.
“Not much was clicking,” Cole said. "Just tried to move some things for some matchups ... during the game we’re just trying to find something, some kind of spark.”
It will be critical for Cole to find that spark early in the game Monday night, putting players together whose styles of play compliment each other. It’s getting to the point of the season where Cole could shorten the bench, finding the guys that will give his team the best chance to win.
It was a rare off-night for senior goaltender John Lethemon on Friday, something fans haven’t been accustomed to seeing in the previous months. The five goals he allowed were the most he’s given up in a single game all season. How he rebounds from an ugly performance will be an area of focus come Monday night.
At this point, the Spartans have fallen far from that elusive No. 16 spot in the PairWise rankings, currently sitting at No. 24. Winning the Big Ten tournament, or at least going on a deep run, might be the team’s last hope at sliding into the big dance.
Every team has games they wish they could take back, and there is nothing more to do than look ahead to the next one. There is still hockey left to be played, and getting back on the right track will take a collective effort from everyone, starting Monday night against the very team they struggled with on Friday.
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