Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Breaking down Michigan State's senior class of 2023

February 1, 2023
The MSU men's hockey team lift their sticks in the air to celebrate their victory over the University of Michigan at the end of the game at Munn Ice Arena on Dec. 9, 2022. The Spartans defeated the Wolverines 2-1.
The MSU men's hockey team lift their sticks in the air to celebrate their victory over the University of Michigan at the end of the game at Munn Ice Arena on Dec. 9, 2022. The Spartans defeated the Wolverines 2-1. —
Photo by Sonya Barlow | The State News

A lot of change has unearthed the Michigan State hockey program over the last year.

The Spartans endured a 13-game losing streak that ultimately led to the school parting ways with Danton Cole. Key players entered the transfer portal while a plethora of players were brought into MSU.

And in came Adam Nightingale as the program’s new head coach, who provided a breath of fresh air, despite having a near-mirror image resume to Cole’s. Nightingale culminated a group of 10 seniors that will be celebrated Saturday, half of which were new to the roster this season.

For the others who have stuck around from the very beginning, there have been plenty of dark days, including a 2020-21 season played at an empty arena. Only once since 2018-19 have the Spartans not finished last in the conference, and even then, they finished in second-to-last place.  

However, they are all responsible for one thing in their final seasons: elevating this program back to a competitive force in the Big Ten, leaving it as a better place than they inherited.

“(I'm) super thankful for them,” Nightingale said. “There's guys that were here and then there's new guys. I think change is not easy. I have a lot of respect for our guys because anytime there's change, you always think of how it impacts me and really this change is about impacting a program and your job as a player – as to whatever your role is – to do it to the best of your ability. All of those guys have done that."

“Some of these guys had larger roles before and some of them had smaller roles before, but I think I've said it before in here, is that's what I've really enjoyed about being part of Michigan State is it's about a team. It's not about one guy, it's not about ego. When I look at this group of guys, that's for sure. They're low maintenance guys that are team guys.” 

Forward Jagger Joshua

If there’s one Michigan State player that has skated with a larger target on his back than others, it’s Jagger Joshua. During games you’ll constantly find him scrapping in front of the net or against the boards. And when there’s a whistle, you better bet your bottom dollar that Joshua is talking smack or making his presence known physically. Even when he scored a garbage time goal this season at Michigan to negate a shutout, he wasn’t free from a nasty stick across the throat from a Wolverine.  

It’s who he is. Trouble seems to always find him, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing for a player who has taken immense strides of maturity. Nightingale benched Joshua for one game in November for his propensity of taking penalties, but he’s responded gloriously by committing just four penalties in the last 13 games. And then when his morals were tested by an Ohio State player who hurled racial slurs at him during a game, Joshua took the high road.

“For the last four years, I put blood, sweat and tears into this program and in Michigan State and they've been so nice to me and (I'm) grateful for their support,” Joshua said. “So, it definitely will be a little emotional and what. I think this is a part of life and growing. I spent four years here in good times, so I got no complaints and I'm excited for what the future holds.” 

Joshua spent his first three seasons mostly as a scraper but has suddenly ascended himself into a consistent goal scorer. His 11 goals on the season lead the Spartans, where he’s played on a productive top line with two freshmen. Joshua scored his first career hat trick Oct. 22, then followed it up with another hat trick Jan. 14 versus Penn State.

Joshua said Tuesday he is unsure whether this will be his final season with Michigan State, but if it is, he’s been one of the fuzzy stories that’s put it all together as a senior.

Defensemen Christian and Cole Krygier

Twin brothers Christian and Cole Krygier were celebrated at last year’s senior night but decided to return for their fifth seasons.

Both selected in the seventh round of the 2018 NHL Draft five picks apart from each other, Christian and Cole have been staples of Michigan State hockey. The two of them have played together their entire lives, anchoring blue lines with a hard-nosed, physical style of play, even though they rarely played in the same pairing.

Christian and Cole have both benefited from the arrival of Nightingale, who has gotten the entire defensive unit more involved offensively. Cole scored his ninth goal of the season last week, the second most by a Spartan defenseman since Torey Krug when he was a Hobey Baker finalist ten years ago. Christian on the other hand has just four points, but he’s playing at the exact same pace as last year after missing multiple games earlier in the season.

The identical twins are both assistant captains, a pair of leaders on and off the ice who will be difficult to replace.

Goaltender Dylan St. Cyr

For the third time in his collegiate career, graduate transfer Dylan St. Cyr will be partaking in senior night, but also with his third team. Two years ago, he celebrated at Notre Dame, where he spent four seasons. Then last year, he had a short stint at Quinnipiac. Now, he gets to be honored not too far down the road from where he was raised in Northville.  

“I think it's exciting and obviously definitely the last time I'll be doing a senior (night), so I can say it's definitely emotional in that sense, but really excited to kind of do it back in my home state,” St. Cyr said. “Obviously all the guys that have spent the time here in their four years, it's something special for them to kind of take in, but also it's an important hockey game that we got to focus on too.” 

St. Cyr’s numbers don’t sparkle, but he has been one of, if not the strongest, Michigan State transfer portal additions. He’s started in 27 of 28 games this season, posting a 2.88 goals against average and a .913 save percentage. Just last week, he made the save of his life in a desperation lunge with his glove to rob Minnesota forward Matthew Knies.

There’s no telling what this team would have looked like without St. Cyr, but it almost certainly would not be ranked No. 17 this late in the season.

Forward Miroslav Mucha

A graduate transfer from Lake Superior State, Miroslav Mucha immediately earned the respect of his teammates when he was named team captain as a newcomer this season. He crossed paths with Nightingale when he played at Shattuck St. Mary’s from 2014 to 2016 and has been a welcome addition to MSU.

Mucha has mostly played in a middle-six role but has made his mark on both ends of the ice. He has six goals and seven assists on the season, including three multi-point games. Mucha may have only been in East Lansing for one season, but his value as a leader and a two-way player should not be underestimated.

Forward Nicolas Müller

Nicolas Müller is one of the two true seniors who has spent all four of his seasons with Michigan State. Müller is in the midst of a breakout season with three goals and 18 assists for 21 points, just one away from his total mark in his first three seasons. He’s been a reliable second center for Michigan State, one who kills penalties and very rarely commits them.

But perhaps his most noticeable trait is his bubbly personality that’s always casted a humbling smile across his face. It’s extremely respectable, given the downtrodden first three seasons he was a part of.

Forward Erik Middendorf

Erik Middendorf joined Michigan State last season after spending the majority of the 2019 and 2020 seasons in the USHL. Before that, he played two seasons with Colorado College until splashing as MSU’s leading scorer (12 goals) last season.

Middendorf was part of a strong top line that returned all three skaters, though last year’s promising season hasn’t translated to this season. That line consisting of sophomore forward Jesse Tucker and junior forward Jeremy Davidson disbanded at the beginning of the season and Middendorf has struggled to find a home on the line chart and get on the scoresheet. In 27 games this season, he’s scored just six goals, four of which came in one game against Wisconsin.

Defenseman Michael Underwood

Michael Underwood transferred to MSU from Clarkson, where he also played under Michigan State assistant coach Mike Towns, who was hired by Nightingale. Where Underwood lacks in speed and offense (he has zero goals and four assists this season) he makes up with a bruising style in tandem with Cole Krygier. He’s played in all 28 games this season and is never afraid to lay his body out in front of opposing shots on net.

Forward Justin Jallen

One of two Minnesota-born players on the roster, Justin Jallen arrived as a graduate transfer from Brown, where he was an assistant captain and earned Second Team All-Ivy honors. His 2020-21 season was canceled, but Jallen improved his goals and points numbers in each of his three seasons at Brown, including a 10-goal season last year.

However, his offensive game hasn’t rendered much at Michigan State, where he transferred in March before Cole was fired. Jallen has mostly served as a fourth line wing and a penalty killer. Through 28 games, he’s scored once and tallied three assists.

Forward Ryan Nolan

Ryan Nolan is another one of the five graduate transfers, though he was injured for the entire first semester of the season. Before coming to Michigan State, he spent three seasons at Merrimack College, accumulating eight points in 46 games. Nolan made his Michigan State debut Jan. 13 as an extra skater for the Penn State series, though he was only utilized to serve penalties.

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