With Michigan State locked into the bottom seed of the Big Ten Tournament, the Spartans easily could have mailed it in Saturday night and come out with no purpose.
From a fan's perspective, they could have done the same. Overjoyed from a thrilling upset victory in the Breslin Center earlier in the day and supporting a team one game away from tying a program record losing streak, a lowly crowd may not have been all that surprising, even on Senior Night.
But before the start of Saturday’s game, Michigan State Head Coach Danton Cole briefly booted the seven graduating seniors out of the locker room. He wanted to emphasize how deserving the seniors were of getting one last win on home ice.
“Coach Cole told us basically just give it all,” junior forward Nico Müller said. “The seniors, they did a hell of a job four years here and just played all out today. We need that win and we need it for them, for us, for the whole program.”
The team took Cole’s wise words to heart and put together a strong 60-minute battle for a 2-1 victory over Penn State. Even in the midst of some of the darkest days of the Michigan State hockey program, the passion for excellence from the players and fans was not absent on Saturday night.
Clinging onto a one-goal lead in the third period 24 hours after allowing four goals in the third and blowing a two-goal lead, Michigan State was under the gun yet again. MSU had yet to commit a penalty until senior defenseman Christian Krygier received a five-minute major and game misconduct for checking from behind at 5:51 of the final period, the only penalty by either team in the game.
Here we go again.
Instead of sinking into its familiar form of the last two months, the Spartans attacked the challenge with grit and determination. Multiple penalty killers, junior forward Jagger Joshua, sophomore defenseman Aiden Gallacher, senior forward Adam Goodsir and Müller, all laid their bodies on the line to eat Penn State shots. Senior defenseman Cole Krygier also swiped away a loose puck inches away from the goal line.
Even Joshua got in alone on a shorthanded breakaway attempt. The built-up energy from the extra raucous crowd of 6,122 was prepared to blow the roof off the building had he scored.
Regardless of Joshua’s failed scoring chance, MSU got the pivotal elongated penalty kill and for the first time in 14 games, the Spartans felt like they were on their way to finally getting a win.
“I think from that point on, the crowd was really into it so that definitely helped us out a lot,” Müller said.
“Sometimes with the way the glass is you don't hear a lot of it or you tune it out, but you could hear them during that,” Cole added. “You could hear the 'Go Green, Go White' chant going and I know the guys on the ice can feel it, but that's a lot of extra energy coming from the crowd there.”
The third-period shots were 20-2 in favor of the visitors, but every single block and save from senior goaltender Drew DeRidder, who stopped 38 in total, was treated with rousing applause. The Munnsters held their breath for 20 long minutes, but finally, they were sent home with smiles from ear to ear.
“You kind of forget what that feels like honestly,” senior defenseman and team captain Dennis Cesana said. “I was really proud of the way the guys kind of came together tonight for our seniors and really played hard and earned that win.”
All three goals of the game came in the first period. Junior forward Josh Nodler broke the scoring midway through the period, stuffing in a rebound after an initial shot from Joshua. It was Nodler’s second goal and third point of the series.
Then in the waning moments of the first, Penn State’s powerful junior forward Kevin Wall crashed hard to the net and tapped in a crossing pass from junior forward Connor McMenamin to tie the game at one.
Demonstrating its first example of toughness on the night, the Spartans didn’t allow the Nittany Lions' goal at 19:04 to carry any momentum into the first intermission. Forty-seven seconds later, Goodsir threw the puck on net and somehow, from an impossible angle, it slipped past sophomore goaltender Liam Souliere.
While it wasn’t a dramatic, late third-period game-winner, it was still fitting to come from the senior who grew up just minutes away from campus.
“To get one late in a period like that, that was huge,” Cole said. “ It's good on him and he had a heck of a game tonight. Again, all the seniors were real good tonight and it was fun.”
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Saturday night encaptured just about everything this fanbase is all about. National championships in 1966, 1986, and 2007 and numerous years of winning hockey had set the expectations for Spartan Hockey.
But, the last handful of years has been forgettable with a plethora of finishes at the cellar of the Big Ten and barred attendance in the seven-win 2020-21 season. However, the Michigan State fan base proved it’s very much intact and hungry for sustained success in East Lansing.
“When the fans get involved too, it really fires you up,” Cesana said. “In the moment you're not really listening to that obviously, but you can definitely hear the background noise and how loud people get for big blocks and things like that.”
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