For the second time this season, the Michigan State hockey team was on the receiving end of a humbling punch. The Spartans entered the Great Lakes Invitational in Grand Rapids with realistic hopes of winning the tournament for the first time since 2009.
Instead, MSU squandered and dropped both games versus Ferris State and Michigan Tech for the Spartans’ second and third consecutive losses of the season. It’s MSU’s longest losing streak this season.
“I think, as a team, that's a good lesson for us,” fifth-year defenseman Cole Krygier said Tuesday. “We can use it in many ways I think. Just not underestimating teams or coming ready to play when you're playing a team that is going to hurt you in the standings overall. And then just making sure that we're getting back on it and working hard.”
Last year’s GLI was a turning point for Michigan State. Although MSU picked up an overtime win in one of the two games, it lost forward Mitchell Lewandowski to a long-term injury that teed up a historic 13-game losing streak and another placement at the Big Ten basement.
This year’s team is at a similar crossroads one year later. Another key player got hurt in the GLI, junior defenseman Nash Nienhuis, though it appears he is OK based on the team’s Instagram page. No. 14 MSU (12-9-1) has an opportunity this weekend at No. 12 Ohio State (12-7-1) to begin the New Year on the right foot – something last year's Spartans failed miserably to do.
But if you ask those Spartans who stuck around after last year’s debacle, they’ll be the first to say it: this team is different.
“I think given last year, there was a lot of times where we won games where we shouldn't have won in the first half,” Krygier said. “I think as a team, we're just playing so much better this year and we have so many pieces to add depth to our lineup to contribute scoring.”
Krygier has been one of the big beneficiaries of returning to Michigan State and playing under new Head Coach Adam Nightingale. He’s reached a career-high and is tied for the team lead with seven goals and was a bright spot last week, scoring two goals versus Ferris State.
But, it was also Krygier who took an elbowing penalty late in the third period that allowed Michigan Tech to force overtime. Then graduate student forward Miroslav Mucha took a tripping penalty in overtime and Michigan Tech scored the game-winner on a 2-on-0 break when MSU attempted a dumbfounding full line change. It epitomized a struggling penalty kill that allowed four power-play goals in the Great Lakes Invitational and five during the Spartans’ three-game losing streak.
“You just kind of gotta flush it,” freshman forward Karsen Dorwart said. “There's obviously things we talked about that we need to be a lot better at. I think locking down the defensive zone, not letting them get inside so much is big for us. But like I said, just kind of flush it and just focus on winning the next game, never worrying about the score too much just playing winning hockey.”
Scouting the opponent
Michigan State squared off with Ohio State two months ago in East Lansing with MSU earning a sweep. The Spartans scored four goals each night, with forwards freshman Daniel Russell and senior Nicolas Müller each netting four points.
“We call him the roadrunner,” Nightingale said of Russell, who is tied with Krygier in leading the team in goals. “We’re super fortunate to have him. He’s a super competitive kid. He’s a quiet worker too. He doesn’t walk around expecting special treatment. He goes out there and earns it.”
Ten days after the teams played each other, Michigan State senior forward Jagger Joshua revealed on social media that an OSU player directed racial slurs at him during the Nov. 11 game. One day later, Ohio State senior forward Kamil Sadlocha was sent away from the team, despite playing in a series versus Notre Dame in between. Sadlocha was brought back to the team this week, although he will not dress Friday and Saturday versus MSU, as reported by The Lantern.
Since then, Ohio State has played three series against common opponents of MSU. The Buckeyes earned splits versus Long Island University and Penn State and a sweep versus Bowling Green. Against those three, Michigan State swept LIU and split against Penn State and Bowling Green.
Stylistically, Michigan State and Ohio State matchup similarly. Both teams create an abundance of shots (MSU is second in the country with 756 total shots on goal and OSU is third with 716) while also allowing about 2.5 goals per game. However, the Buckeyes have the top penalty kill in the nation, shutting down opponents on 90.5% of power plays, and have also scored the most shorthanded goals in college hockey. Michigan State’s power play did find success versus Ohio State though, scoring a power play goal on both nights.
“The nice thing is we have tape of playing against them so we will obviously watch their previous games,” Nightingale said. “We started doing that and watching our game back and seeing if there’s anything.”
Fifth-year forward Jake Wise leads the Buckeyes with 20 points while sophomore forward Cam Thiesing and freshman forward Davis Burnside are tied for the team lead with nine goals each. Sophomore and reigning Big Ten Goaltender of the Year Jakub Dobeš has manned the net in every game for the Buckeyes, with his numbers taking a slight tick down from last year.
“I think getting the first goal is going to be key for us,” Krygier said. “I think the games we've gotten the first goal and hadn't had to battle back as hard has been good for us. I think when we get on a roll, two, three goals in the first period, we've always had success too.”
The puck drops at 7 p.m. on Friday night with streaming available on BTN+. Saturday’s game begins at 4 p.m. and will be broadcasted on the Big Ten Network.
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