As of late, one word has been used to describe Michigan State hockey’s performance in the last month: rut. The Spartans (12-11-1, 6-7-1 Big Ten) return to Munn Ice Arena for the first time since Dec. 9 – the date of their last win – to host No. 5 Penn State (17-5-0, 7-5-0 Big Ten) in their first home series of 2023.
MSU traveled to Columbus last weekend for a rematch with No. 8 Ohio State after sweeping the Buckeyes back in November. Roles were reversed the second time around as OSU earned the sweep in a competitive 3-1 showing and 6-0 blowout.
After graduate goaltender Dylan St. Cyr gave up three goals in the first period of regulation Saturday, junior goaltender Pierce Charleson came in as relief when MSU returned to the ice for the second period. It was Charleson’s second start of the season, following his appearance in MSU’s 8-4 win over Long Island University back in October. The third-year Spartan stopped 19 shots while allowing three goals from the Buckeyes in the final two periods.
A lacking Spartan penalty kill unit, who gave up one power-play goal on two chances in game one, bounced back in night two, forfeiting just one on OSU’s eight tries.
Although MSU’s record reflects five back-to-back losses, four of the games were decided by one or two goals.
Friday’s matchup was determined by two goals with sophomore Jesse Tucker putting up the Spartans’ only goal of the series to cut Ohio State’s lead to 2-1 in the second period. The Buckeyes tacked on an empty net goal in the waning minutes to win by a pair.
Tucker now has a career-best six goals on the year, three of which were scored in MSU’s last six games.
Short-term memory was key for the Spartans after the sweep, getting back to work as soon as possible and continuing to focus on themselves rather than the next opponent – a motto they’ve continued to preach all year.
“As a group, just getting after it in practice, doing things the right way, and kind of had to fill in those holes that, obviously, have been there the last couple of games,” Tucker said. “We've shown that we can do it at the start of the year, so we just kind of got to get back to that. If we play that way against Penn State, I think things will go in a positive direction.”
Scouting the Nittany Lions
Michigan State nearly swept then No. 6 Penn State on the road in November, but the opportunity was ruined by two third-period goals from the Nittany Lions during the first game of the series. The Spartans maintained a 3-2 lead heading into the final 20 minutes with scores from freshman defenseman Matt Basgall, senior forward Jagger Joshua and fifth-year defenseman Cole Krygier.
Night two sang a much different tune with the Spartans dominating 7-3, the most goals the team’s put up in a single game this season.
Six Spartans netted pucks that night, with freshman forward Karsen Dorwart putting up two goals and an assist. Dorwart and freshman forward Tiernan Shoudy led the team in points with three each on the night, all of Shoudy’s being assists.
While MSU has competed in the new year, the Nittany Lions are coming off a 12-day break from play following a series sweep over RIT on Dec. 30 and 31, 2022.
Since meeting earlier in the season, Penn State has stayed near the top of the national rankings, going 7-3 in the last ten games. Meanwhile, MSU has gone 3-7 since Thanksgiving weekend.
Despite challenges with the penalty kill, MSU sits above PSU with 81.3%. The Nittany Lions are fostering a 79.6% PK. The Spartans rank fourth overall in shots on goal with 778, while Penn State holds 610.
Senior forward Kevin Wall leads the Nittany Lions with 20 points on 11 goals and nine assists. Trailing Wall with 18 points respectively are senior forwards Connor MacEachern and Connor McMenamin. Junior goaltender Liam Souliere has a .923 save percentage, tied for tenth nationally, while allowing 2.10 goals on average.
“We're excited about getting back home,” MSU Head Coach Adam Nightingale said Tuesday. “Super thankful for the support we get from our fans, and it's a credit to the guys, because you know, I think early on, there wasn't a ton of people in the building. And I think when people came to watch our team play, they were proud of our effort. We didn't win every game, but we've had a good record here at home. … That's a credit to the guys and our fan base for recognizing these guys want to be a great team. Are we there yet? No, but we're getting closer. And we're working towards that every day.”
Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. both nights. Friday’s game can be streamed on BTN+ while Saturday’s will be televised on the Big Ten Network.