Less than three weeks ago, Michigan State hockey was riding high after knocking off then No. 6 Michigan at Munn Ice Arena in an exhilarating 2-1 victory.
Following a two-week break, the Spartans returned to the ice for the Great Lakes Invitational with confidence. In return, they left Van Andel Arena with less-than-desirable results to kick off the second half of their season: two additional tallies to the loss column.
Down 3-0 at the end of the first period in the semifinal round versus unranked Ferris State, the Spartans were able to pull within one thanks to two goals from fifth-year defenseman Cole Krygier. The semifinal matchup marked Krygier’s 142nd career game. The MSU assistant captain and Michigan native has scored three goals in the last four games for the Spartans.
“I think I've been doing a good job getting aggression at times when I need to,” Krygier said. “I think on the (short-handed goal) that was just a good effort by Nico (Müller) to get it out, and then the two-on-one, (Jagger Joshua) made a good play. And overall, I just think I move my feet defending hard and that makes a big difference when you are rolling."
Trailing by one in the third period, MSU was unable to net an equalizer. The closest it got was a shot in the second half of the third that was ruled no goal.
Ferris State’s fourth goal by senior forward Jason Brancheau was the nail in the coffin, for a final score of 4-2.
Bulldog goaltender freshman Noah Giesbrecht made 45 saves – the most an opposing goalie has made against the Spartans this year – while MSU’s graduate goaltender Dylan St. Cyr made 18.
Following Tuesday’s loss, MSU Head Coach Adam Nightingale said he avoids judging his players’ performance based on the scoreboard results, but rather their quality of play – a mentality he’s repeated often this season.
“We got better as the game went on, and I liked our push and I think that says a lot of guys,” Nightingale said. “It can be easy to get down and feel sorry for yourself or whatever, and the reality is, no one's gonna feel sorry for you – you gotta go out and do something about it.”
MSU had the opportunity to bounce back in a third-place, consolation game against No. 17 Michigan Tech Wednesday afternoon.
Leading 2-1 in the final two minutes of regulation – courtesy of a first-period goal from sophomore forward Jesse Tucker and a top shelf marker from freshman forward Daniel Russell in the second – it appeared the Spartans would come out on top.
The Huskies had other plans.
Krygier was whistled for elbowing with 2:05 to go, sending Michigan Tech into its final power play of regulation. In a last effort to tie the game, the Huskies opted for an empty net, giving them an extra attacker. Sophomore defenseman Brett Thorne scored the equalizer, a 6-on-4 goal at the 18:47 mark, to make it 2-2 and send the game into five-minute sudden-death overtime.
Just 44 seconds into post-regulation play, graduate forward Miro Mucha was sent to the box on a tripping call, forcing MSU to go back on the penalty kill.
The GLI’s overtime rules called for three-on-three, but the penalty gave MTU a four-on-three advantage. The Huskies quickly caught the Spartans in a line change, allowing freshman forward Arvid Caderoth to score his first goal of the season: the game-winner.
MTU junior goaltender Blake Pietila was 31 for 33 in saves, while St. Cyr made 35, 17 more than the night before.
In the end, Michigan Tech converted two of its three power play opportunities, while MSU was 0-1. The Spartans struggled on the penalty kill all tournament, allowing a total of four power-play goals across both games.
“It’s a tough way to lose a hockey game for sure,” Nightingale said after the loss on Wednesday. “These are lessons we got to learn as a team, and regardless if you agree with the call or not, you gotta kill off penalties if you want to win hockey games, and we obviously didn’t do that.”
What’s next for MSU
The Spartans ended the tournament in fourth place, marking the first time they’ve lost three games in a row this year.
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Mistakes with shift change timing and killing penalties are both areas for improvement, Nightingale said.
“It’s all about trying to keep building and keep moving,” Nightingale said. “We’ll learn from it. We’ll be better because of it.”
The losses hurt MSU's national rankings – it's since dropped four spots to No. 12 in the PairWise – but still holds the third spot in conference standings.
While Michigan State fans shouldn’t hit the panic button just yet, there is no denying MSU is in need of a win as soon as possible.
MSU returns to conference play next week when it heads to Columbus for a rematch series with No. 14 Ohio State. The Spartans swept the Buckeyes in 4-2 and 4-3 victories back in November at Munn Ice Arena. Since dropping both games to MSU, OSU has gone 5-3 with notable wins over No. 5 Penn State and No. 19 Notre Dame.
The Spartans have just a few days to dust themselves off, put the GLI losses behind them and prepare for a top-15 team on the road. Their response to this week’s adversity will be crucial in setting the tone for the remainder of the season.
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