With five back-to-back losses dating back to Dec. 10, Michigan State hockey tumbled down six spots in national rankings from where it sat after splitting wins with No. 6 Michigan before the holiday break, landing at No. 17 earlier this week.
With each additional tally to the loss column, it seemed the Spartans’ postseason dreams would soon start to slip away. They needed to turn things around, fast.
But the rut gave Michigan State motivation – a reason to battle back from adversity. The Spartans returned home to Munn Ice Arena to put an end to their month-long skid with a come-from-behind 3-2 overtime win over No. 5 Penn State.
"It was a big-time character win for our team," Michigan State Head Coach Adam Nightingale said. “I think the way it's gone for us recently, it would have been easy for our group to fold, and obviously the amount of penalties we took is not a recipe for success … but I loved our energy. I thought we stuck with it and got rewarded.”
It appeared penalties would once again hinder Michigan State’s performance, giving up two power-play goals on five-on-three opportunities. MSU was whistled for 10 penalties, totaling 39 minutes, the most the Spartans have racked up in a game so far this season. The largest infraction was a game misconduct called on sophomore defenseman David Gucciardi, ejecting him from the game.
Despite handing PSU eight power plays, MSU managed to kill off six, fighting to overcome their mistakes.
Fifth year defenseman Cole Krygier served a total of 12 penalty minutes throughout the game, including a 10-minute call in the second period for “abuse of officials.” Krygier returned part way through the third – just in time to help the Spartans fend off additional goals from the Nittany Lions in regulation and eventually win the game in overtime.
“I definitely think that's kind of how it goes, sometimes the game will play with you” Krygier said. “As you go through (the game), obviously you gotta handle your emotions. I could’ve get pissed off and threw myself out of the game, but I just stayed calm … Not much I can do about it after it happened.”
Adjustments to the lineup have been common MSU as of late, and Friday’s game was no different. Junior defenseman Nash Nienhuis was scratched for the fourth-straight game. Sophomore forward Jesse Tucker – who’s scored three goals in the last seven games for MSU, including the team’s only goal against Ohio State last weekend – was also out of the lineup. Graduate transfer forward Ryan Nolan made his Spartan debut, stepping into the extra skater spot.
Senior forward Erik Middendorf moved up to the third line with freshman forward Tiernan Shoudy and sophomore forward Tanner Kelly. The shift seemed to work well offensively, as Middendorf finally got Michigan State on the board at 8:38 in the third to trail Penn State 2-1. It was Middendorf’s sixth goal of the season after scoring 12 last season.
“I was happy to get that goal for sure, but more so to get the boys on their feet, get the crowd on their feet and cheering us on because it's been hard to find the back of the net, but we've been playing our game of hockey and it's gonna come,” Middendorf said.
Down one in the waning minutes of the third period, the Spartans were still searching for an equalizer. With 6:49 left to play, senior forward Jagger Joshua found it.
The indisputable hero of the night was Krygier who came back to the ice after serving his penalties to win the game with a top-shelf shot 3:36 into sudden-death overtime.
“I've been trying to go upstairs there all year, so it was lucky to go in,” Krygier said. “I think this is one of my greatest moments at Michigan State. I think I haven't scored too many goals in my career, so this year’s been a different one for me, but no, it’s awesome to get a win at home, especially, we needed that one for sure.”
The game-tying goal allowed Joshua to pull away with the lead of eight goals on the year. Joshua held the first place spot for about 20 minutes until Krygier netted the game-winner. The pair are now tied for first place.
Graduate goaltender Dylan St. Cyr, who’s been an asset to this new Michigan State team all season, made 42 saves on the night, earning himself First Star of the Game.
Perhaps St. Cyr’s best stops were the five-straight he made in the final minutes of the second period. The shots forced St. Cyr way out of his net to cover the puck, sending another sold-out MSU home crowd into a frenzy, specifically the Munnsters who chanted his name repeatedly after the impressive stops.
"Dylan’s just unbelievable,” Middendorf said. “He makes those saves every day in practice. You just question it: ‘how is he doing this? How is he moving like that?’ He's been playing college hockey for six years, and he gives it his all every single day. He’s a huge leader for us.”
The come-from-behind victory followed some of the lowest moments of the season, a fourth-place finish in the Great Lakes Invitational and suffering a sweep by No. 8 Ohio State. Friday wasn’t the first showing of Michigan State determination this season either. After dropping 5-0 and 6-3 losses to Minnesota in November, the Spartans rallied back to defeat then No. 6 Michigan 2-1 at Munn on Dec. 9.
MSU’s resilience earned the Spartans their first overtime win of the season and first win since Dec. 9, all while in front of their own fans.
“I'm proud of our guys because I think the rest of our games are standing room only,” Nightingale said. “That's a testament to the way our fans respect our guys. Win or lose, I do think our guys play hard, and I think Michigan State people want, they're proud people that really respect work ethic, team play, and so, to see our guys get rewarded and have that energy in Munn, I thought it was awesome, and honesty probably made the difference in the game.”
The Spartans look to sweep Penn State on Saturday at 7 p.m. with the game broadcasted on the Big Ten Network.