The 2021-22 Michigan State hockey season was a tale of two halves.
Through December, the Spartans were rolling. They sported an 11-8-1 record and just captured an electrifying overtime win over Michigan Tech in the Great Lakes Invitational. More on that later. MSU also was 5-5 in conference play and for the first time appeared to be turning a corner.
Then it all crumbled apart. Dramatically.
Michigan State immediately went on a miserable 13-game losing streak as the calendar flipped to January. For six weekends in a row, the Spartans found different ways to lose Big Ten games over and over again. Poor goaltending, injuries, an absent offense, inferior special teams, you name it, Michigan State saw it.
MSU slowly crept down the conference standings into its familiar doormat spot, yet still had a chance to finish as the No. 5 seed in the Big Ten with four games to play. Buoyed from the season’s first three months, hope was there, but still, the Spartans couldn’t get it done and dropped three of the last four regular-season games. It birthed the last seed in the Big Ten Tournament and a matchup versus the star-studded Michigan Wolverines – a death sentence waiting to happen.
One month later, Danton Cole was relieved of his head coaching duties, replaced by Adam Nightingale. It’s the beginning of a new chapter with a plan to bring the program back to national relevance, 15 years removed from MSU’s 2007 national championship.
However, there are still some bright moments to reflect on from the 12-23-1 season. Fans were welcomed back into the stands and the Spartans added some young players that showed promise.
Here are the five greatest moments from last season:
Disclaimer: These moments are simply ranked in chronological order, not 1-5.
Spartans stage dramatic comeback at Ferris State
Two days after senior goaltender Drew DeRidder shutout Ferris State in East Lansing, the two teams squared off again in Big Rapids with DeRidder once again in the net.
Ferris State jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second period on a power-play goal and then a shorthanded goal less than a minute later when forward Mitchell Lewandowski wasn’t strong enough with the puck at center ice.
Then in the waning moments of the second, forward Josh Nodler, who has since transferred to UMass, made a sweet deke in front of Ferris State’s goaltender to get MSU on the board. Michigan State kept pushing and with under seven minutes to play cut the lead in half on a one-timer from senior defenseman Cole Krygier from a spin-o-rama feed from freshman forward Jesse Tucker. Senior defenseman Dennis Cesana tied it with an upper-deck shot from just outside the circle with under three minutes to play.
With under a minute to play, Lewandowski skated behind the Ferris State net and the goaltender slid to his right, likely to protect a potential wraparound goal. Instead, Lewandowski slid the puck to junior forward Erik Middendorf in front of the net and slammed it into the open goal to complete the miraculous comeback victory.
Riding some momentum from last weekend’s win at Ferris State, Michigan State returned home to face Wisconsin, the defending Big Ten regular-season champions, a crown they won on that exact sheet of ice in March 2021.
Michigan State jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first, only for Wisconsin to answer with two in the second period. MSU’s offense exploded in the third, netting three goals, two of which came from sophomore forward Jeremy Davidson. DeRidder was phenomenal for the second night in a row, stopping 48 shots.
The pair of wins extended Michigan State’s win streak to four, the longest of the season. It also was MSU’s first Big Ten sweep since 2019.
Lewandowski scores overtime winner at Notre Dame
Following a blown 2-0 lead for a 3-2 loss at Notre Dame, Michigan State came back the next night with a strong defensive effort.
The two teams skated through a scoreless three periods with DeRidder in net for MSU. It only took 33 seconds in overtime for a goal to finally be scored as Lewandowski easily entered the Notre Dame zone and wristed a shot from the slot into the back of the net. DeRidder picked up the primary assist to go along with his 30-save shutout.
Little did anyone know it would be Michigan State’s last conference win until late February.
David Gucciardi puts on a show in the Great Lakes Invitational
Michigan State scored four goals in two games of the Great Lakes Invitational in East Lansing. Three of them came from freshman defenseman David Gucciardi.
On the first night, Gucciardi scored MSU’s lone goal in a forgettable loss to Western Michigan, one of the top teams in the country last year. He was only heating up.
A day later, Gucciardi notched two more goals against a potent Michigan Tech team. The first was in the opening period to put the Spartans ahead. Michigan Tech clawed back to force overtime with the score tied at two, but not even 90 seconds were needed for MSU to come out victorious.
It was Gucciardi, who clutched up one of the most marvelous goals you’ll ever see from a defenseman. He joined the rush with Tucker, Michigan State’s point leader, who centered the puck as Gucciardi sliced past the Michigan Tech defense. Gucciardi handled it cleanly, broke for the right of the net, put the puck between his legs and shelved it into the twine.
It was a long, difficult two months to begin 2022. The Spartans headed into the final regular-season match on a Saturday night versus Penn State. A loss on Senior Night would have been MSU’s 14th in a row, tying a school record from the 1950s.
All three of the game’s goals were scored in the first period, with Nodler opening the scoring midway through the period. Penn State tied it at one at 19:04, but it was senior forward Adam Goodsir with the tough-angle shot at 19:51 that put Michigan State back in front.
Senior defenseman Christian Krygier received a five-minute major and game misconduct in the third period and MSU had one of its best kills of the season to hold on for the 2-1 victory.
For the first time in months, Munn Ice Arena was rocking with a reminder of how sweet the taste of victory is. With arena renovations expected to be completed soon and a new coaching staff hired, now is the beginning of a new era for Michigan State hockey.
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