Thursday, June 30, 2022

Preview: MSU Hockey ready to wrap-up regular season versus Penn State

February 25, 2022
<p>Spartan athletes and fans celebrate a goal during a hockey game against Penn State on Jan. 24, 2020, at Munn Ice Arena. The Spartans defeated the Nittany Lions, 4-2.</p>

Spartan athletes and fans celebrate a goal during a hockey game against Penn State on Jan. 24, 2020, at Munn Ice Arena. The Spartans defeated the Nittany Lions, 4-2.

Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

The end of the Big Ten regular season is here, and it has arrived quickly, despite Michigan State’s 12-game losing streak. 

It has been the talk of the team ever since the misery started after Michigan State’s last win on Dec. 30 against Michigan Tech in the Great Lakes Invitational. When will the losing streak end? How will it end?

Last week, Michigan State returned its best skater in fifth-year forward Mitchell Lewandowski after missing 10 previous games. His return jolted MSU, particularly on Friday, and he made his mark on the series, picking up a primary assist on the Spartans’ lone goal in the series opener. 

“I think he brings a certain confidence to the guys on the team, and you like guys with a little bit of swagger,” Michigan State Head Coach Danton Cole said. “Lewy’s a guy that might come across as a nice guy, but he’s got a pretty good edge to him, and that’s something that I don’t want to say it’s completely missing in (the) youth, but I think that the meanness and the hardness maybe is lacking at times, just the way society is now.”

Junior forward Erik Middendorf and freshman forward Jesse Tucker continue to be the most consistent sources of offense, notching three points each over the weekend. 

Still, it wasn’t enough for Michigan State (11-20-1) to get over the hump, dropping both games at home to Notre Dame. 

The attention turns to Penn State, who comes to East Lansing for the final games at Munn Ice Arena, barring a Cinderella run in the Big Ten Tournament. Not only have the Spartans not won a game in the New Year, they haven’t won a conference game at home since completing a sweep over Wisconsin on Nov. 20, 2021.

Cole still believes there were positive aspects to take away and build on for the week, but the clock is ticking for Michigan State to get back on track. Two losses this weekend would elongate MSU’s losing streak to 14, tying the longest streak in program history, set in the 1950-51 season and matched in the 1955-56 season. 

“It’d be huge to get a couple of wins and have some momentum going into the playoffs,” senior defenseman Dennis Cesana said.

Scouting the opponent

Penn State (14-17-1) has struggled just about as much as MSU has. Sitting three points ahead of the Spartans, PSU would have to drop both games in order to fall below Michigan State. 

The Nittany Lions present a unique style of hockey that is about the near opposite of Michigan State’s. Penn State prides itself on a high-powered offense that peppers opposing goaltenders with a barrage of shots on net. 

PSU is first in the country, by a mile, in total shots with 1,248, nearly 100 more than the next best team. Junior forward Kevin Wall and freshman forward Ryan Kirwan are both tied for third in the country in total shots with 129 each. Wall also leads the team with 27 points from 14 goals and 13 assists. 

The problem for Penn State is the offensive blitz hasn’t necessarily translated to goals scored. PSU ranks 5th in the Big Ten and 20th in the country in goals scored per game, at 3.16. 

“I think one thing we really need to do a good job of this weekend is just finishing all of our checks,” senior forward Adam Goodsir, who has scored five of his 17 career points against Penn State, said. “When we make them come from a standstill that makes it a lot harder for them to get their transition game going. That’s something that they do well.”

Penn State’s senior goaltender, Oskar Autio, has received a majority of the starting nods, posting a 3.12 goals against average, or GAA, and .893 save percentage in 23 appearances. He’s struggled over the last three months, surrendering at least three goals in 10 of his last 12 games. Sophomore goaltender Liam Souliere has gotten a start in four straight series and, overall, has put up similar numbers to Autio. 

Souliere started one game versus MSU last season, surrendering four goals before the Spartans added an empty-netter. The five goals were the most Michigan State scored all season. 

The two teams last met in Happy Valley in early December, where they played to a split, with the Spartans taking Saturday’s match, 4-3. 

Penn State is also riding a losing streak of its own, just five to MSU’s 12, most recently with losses at home to Minnesota. PSU held a 3-0 first-period lead last Saturday before seeing it crumble away for a 6-4 loss on senior night. 

Michigan State will hope to have better fortune for its senior night on Saturday. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday night and 6 p.m. Saturday night with both games streamed on BTN+.

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