Last season, Michigan State hockey finished 12-21-1 overall and 6-18 in the Big Ten, during which it suffered a historic 13-game losing streak.
Based on the results of the last five games – dating back to a 1-1 tie with Notre Dame on Oct. 29, followed by four-straight Big Ten wins over Wisconsin and No. 10 Ohio State – it’s evident there’s a completely different group of Spartans on the ice this year.
Most of the Spartans’ success can be attributed to first-year Head Coach Adam Nightingale’s coaching and the 12 new faces on the roster.
After sweeping the Buckeyes, the Spartans are now 8-3-1 on the season, earning themselves the number two spot in the Big Ten standings. MSU received 19 votes in the USCHO rankings earlier this week and will most likely see its name in the next set of rankings.
Ohio State came into Thursday night’s game with a competitive fight and was the better team in the first period. Michigan State turned it around by the third period, showing resilience and then some, ultimately dominating the Buckeyes with two goals in the final three and a half minutes for a final score of 4-2.
Nightingale said he thought Ohio State played well in the first period of game one while MSU took longer to find its footing.
“I thought we got better as the game went on,” Nightingale said following the game. “I liked our poise, too. I think that's part of it when you're playing a good team. They're going to push you, and no one panicked, and the guys were able to get the job done.”
A goal from freshman forward Daniel Russell, with 3:36 left to play, put MSU up 3-2. He leads the team with 15 points, consisting of 11 assists and four goals.
As a young member of the team, Russell said he credits much of his success to his linemates: senior forward Jagger Joshua and freshman forward Karsen Dorwart. The trio is currently MSU’s highest-scoring line. Russell and Dorwart played together for the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede during the 2021-22 season.
“We have really good chemistry,” Russell said. “Me and Dorwart played together last year for pretty much the whole season, so we've had some chemistry coming into this, but then Jagger plays a really good piece in our line; creates a lot of space for us too and could also bury the puck.”
Another key contributor to Thursday’s win was graduate transfer goaltender Dylan St. Cyr with 32 saves on the night. St. Cyr recorded his 11th career shutout the week prior against Wisconsin (3-8-0, 0-6-0 Big Ten) while only allowing one Badger goal the entire weekend.
St. Cyr said MSU has grown as a team since the start of the season, but there is still room for improvement.
“I think we knew that we kind of had something to prove going into this year and a lot of people weren't giving us credit for the team that we were gonna have,” St. Cyr said after Thursday’s win. “I think the past few weekends, we've really turned it around and kind of nailed a few points that we wanted to figure out defensively. The best part is, I think we can still be better.”
The Spartans carried their momentum from the first game against the Buckeyes into Friday, and Nightingale said his team played better the second time around.
“I saw a more hungry team and that’s a good sign,” Nightingale said. “That's kind of been our mantra: We gotta keep getting better as the season goes on, so a huge weekend for us and we're going to continue to try to build some momentum.”
MSU got on the board first Friday night with a goal from the captain and graduate transfer forward Miroslav Mucha at the 1:00 mark.
Mucha said he noticed the players sticking together and supporting one another through their successes.
“I think we're coming together as a team,” Mucha said. “It's great to see how guys are getting to know each other very fast, and we're learning to play with one another, especially when we have a lot of new guys on a team. … It's great to see the energy on a bench when you score a goal; when somebody blocks a shot – the guys are buzzing.”
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Senior forward Nicolas Müller, in his fourth season with the Spartans, scored two goals in MSU’s 4-3 victory over the Buckeyes on Friday, bringing his season total to three. Müller said this is the first time MSU swept two Big Ten opponents in a row since he arrived.
“It definitely gives a good confidence boost,” Müller said. “Also the belief in the coaching staff that we work really hard during the week, it just gets good confidence … good chemistry all together with the team.”
MSU ended the series versus OSU with eight goals, 16 assists, 60 shots and 65 saves.
Mucha said the Spartans won’t spend too much time focusing on the sweep but instead put it behind them to prepare for what’s next.
“It's very hard to sweep in college hockey, especially in playing a Big Ten team that's one of the best in the country,” Mucha said. “We just showed that we can play with anyone and just got to worry about ourselves and stick to our game.”
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