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MSU hockey unofficially begins 2022-23 season with exhibition versus USNTDP

September 30, 2022
<p>Junior defense Cal Dybicz (6) moves with the puck as players of the Michigan State Spartans men&#x27;s ice hockey team run through drills during an open practice at Munn Ice Arena on Aug. 31, 2022. This practice marks the start of new Head Coach Adam Nightingale’s first full season at Michigan State. He was hired for the role in May 2022. </p>

Junior defense Cal Dybicz (6) moves with the puck as players of the Michigan State Spartans men's ice hockey team run through drills during an open practice at Munn Ice Arena on Aug. 31, 2022. This practice marks the start of new Head Coach Adam Nightingale’s first full season at Michigan State. He was hired for the role in May 2022.

Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

With a newly renovated arena, brand new coaching staff and 12 new faces on the roster, a new era of Michigan State hockey starts Saturday. 

The Spartans are set to face their first opponent of the season, the US National Team Development Program, or USNTDP, in an exhibition game on Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. at Munn Ice Arena.

After finishing 12-23-1 overall last season, MSU looks for a fresh start in 2022-23 with new Head Coach Adam Nightingale behind the bench.

And for Nightingale, the matchup versus the USNTDP will be a little more than just any old exhibition. Before coming to MSU earlier this year, he spent two years as head coach for the USNTDP.

Nightingale said he still knows quite a few players on the USNTDP and looks forward to MSU’s matchup with them.

“It's fun to watch them grow from when they’re 17, when they're like little boys and getting manhandled to now, a really good hockey team, so we're excited to have them,” Nightingale said.

The two teams played in an exhibition game last season with USNTDP defeating MSU, 3-0. It was MSU's first loss versus the USNTDP in six games.

Who’s on MSU’s 2022-23 roster 

This year’s team is made up of 16 returning and 12 new players. Of the new players, there are five graduate transfers, a junior transfer and six freshmen. 

The six transfers include graduate forwards Justin Jallen, Miroslav Mucha and Ryan Nolan, graduate defenseman Michael Underwood, graduate goaltender Dylan St. Cyr and junior forward Zach Dubinsky. Michigan State's freshmen class is made of defensemen Viktor Hurtig and Matt Basgall, as well as forwards Tiernan Shoudy, Daniel Russell, Gavin Best and Karsen Dorwart.

“I'm super thankful for the group of guys we have,” Nightingale said in a press conference on Monday. “They're working really hard, they want to be coached and I think they're excited to play a real game as well.”

Nightingale said he is happy with how the team has worked during the first month of practice, but said a key component to evaluating his players is watching them face off against an opponent. 

“You get some live ammo out there and you can start to formulate some more opinions on where you guys kind of slot in your roster,” Nightingale said. “I do think you find out a lot about yourself when you turn the scoreboard on, and an important part of our evaluation of this group is getting out and playing. I think each game we play we learn more and then find out more.”

Michigan State announced its captains Friday morning for the season. Mucha, a Lake Superior State transfer, was named team captain while fifth-year twin defensemen Cole and Christian Krygier and junior defensemen Nash Nienhuis were named alternate captains.

Nightingale said it’s important for the graduate transfers to lead by example for the younger players on the team and that they have done a good job so far. He added the freshmen are committed to improving and working hard.

“We want to be a selfless group that competes and works, and so those are the qualities we're looking for in leaders,” Nightingale said. “Certainly there's a group of guys that have shown that they can do that.”

Overall, Nightingale said the coaching staff is still looking for concrete leaders on the team with the recent staff adjustments, but is excited about the potential. 

“I understand you have a new coach and everyone's trying to feel their way up and see where they fit into it, but I'm excited about our leadership with our team,” Nightingale said.

Player perspectives heading into the season

St. Cyr transferred to MSU from Quinnipiac University, where he started in 11 games. Prior to that, he was a familiar foe to the Spartans, spending his first four years of eligibility at Notre Dame. 

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St. Cyr said finding a program with a solid culture was crucial for him when searching for schools to use his final year of eligibility and Michigan State seemed like the obvious choice.

“It being my sixth year but I've been around enough to know that a good culture is really something I want to be a part of and trying to build something new with the team,” St. Cyr said. “This is really exciting and a new time for Michigan State hockey.”

St. Cyr said he felt more comfortable with the adjustment knowing since there were 11 other new guys to experience it with. He added the returning players created a welcoming environment for them coming in.

Nightingale said St. Cyr is a valuable asset in the locker room due to his experience as a veteran in collegiate hockey.  

“I look at Dylan St. Cyr, he played at Notre Dame and Quinnipiac,” Nightingale said. “Those are two really good programs and winning programs and he knows what it takes to win.”

Senior forward Nicolas Müller said the expectations and work ethic under the new staff has been different so far this season. 

“I think we work more with intent,” Müller said. “When we work, we work really hard, and I think that's the biggest difference.”

With new coaches, Müller said some pressure falls on the players to perform their best.

“Everyone wants to just showcase and show off and everything, so definitely a little pressure but it's been really good,” Müller said.

Despite the pressure, Müller said the team is ready to get back on the ice playing opponents. 

Saturday will be Hurtig's, a Sweden native, first game ever in North America. A sixth round NHL Draft pick by the New Jersey Devils, Hurtig played the 2021-22 season with the Växjö Lakers, recording 11 points in 25.

“The rink is smaller here, so that's the difference,” Hurtig said. “All the players are just a few steps better, they're faster, they're a little heavier and they're stronger. So I'll guess I have to see on Saturday how it goes.”

Hurtig said he has a “good feeling” about the team going into the season and is excited to see what it can accomplish on the rink come game time.

“I think all the guys can see each other working really hard during practicing and in the gym and everything,” Hurtig said. “I think we're just going to be a hard working team with some skill as well.”

St. Cyr said the team sees the new era as an opportunity to build upon the success of MSU hockey’s past and get the program “back on track” for the fans and alumni.

“I think we owe it to them to put the work in to at least make the right steps in that direction,” St. Cyr said.

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