With six games left on its regular season schedule, No. 17 Michigan State hockey is entering the home stretch. Sitting just outside the 16-team NCAA tournament bubble at No. 18 in the PairWise rankings, the Spartans are fighting to earn a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
Suffering a season sweep by No. 1 Minnesota last weekend certainly damaged MSU’s postseason chances, but nothing is out of the question – yet.
Currently sixth place in the Big Ten conference, the Spartans (13-13-2, 7-9-2 Big Ten) are tied with archrival No. 6 Michigan at 24 points. A win – or two – over No. 20 Notre Dame (13-12-3, 8-8-2 Big Ten) this weekend would do wonders for Michigan State’s playoff aspirations.
“They’re a really well coached team,” MSU Head Coach Adam Nightingale said Tuesday of Notre Dame. “I just think they do things the right way, and it'll be a really good test for us.”
Notre Dame Head Coach Jeff Jackson, a Michigan State alumnus, is in his 18th season with the Fighting Irish.
“I got a lot of respect for coach Jackson and his staff,” Nightingale said. “Actually, my older brother had worked for him at one point and he’s always been good to our family.”
Scouting the opponent
Michigan State met Notre Dame in South Bend back in October in its first conference series of the season, leaving with a 5-0 loss and 1-1 tie in overtime. Shootout goals from freshman forward Karsen Dorwart and sophomore forward Tanner Kelly secured the extra point in Big Ten standings for the Spartans.
At the conclusion of Saturday’s game, MSU will honor ten players with senior day accolades, including graduate goaltender Dylan St. Cyr, who’s been a defensive powerhouse in the net for the Spartans since transferring prior to the start of the season.
St. Cyr will celebrate the end of his six-year college hockey career playing the team that gave him his start. The Michigan native spent four seasons with the Fighting Irish, before spending the 2021-22 year at Quinnipiac.
The last time the Spartans defeated Notre Dame was a 1-0 overtime victory on Dec. 11, 2021. MSU has made strides since facing the Fighting Irish over three months ago, but has yet to notch a win over them this season.
“I think we’re a much different team now, but that’s basically weekend to weekend with our group and the progress that we’ve made,” St. Cyr said. “I think we can take away the style of play that they continue to play. I don’t think they’ve changed nearly as much as we have, so I think it will be exciting to kind of retest and reevaluate where we’re at from the beginning of the season.”
St. Cyr said one of Notre Dame’s biggest strengths is defense, and it translates on the scoresheet. The Fighting Irish lead the Big Ten in blocks on the year with 404, compared to an opponent average of 318. Meanwhile, the Spartans have tallied 351.
Senior goaltender Ryan Bischel allows 2.48 goals per game, boasting a .928 save percentage while St. Cyr gives up 2.88 on .913.
“I think (defense is) an area we want to continue to try to expose,” St. Cyr said.
However, Notre Dame is last in the conference with a 76.8% penalty kill. MSU is in third, sitting at 80.4%.
On the other side of the puck, the Fighting Irish are second to last in the Big Ten in goals per game and last in shots on net with 2.46 and 29.36, respectively.
At the same time, Michigan State averages 2.82 goals and 33.43 shots. Notre Dame is also 18.2% effective on the power play, while MSU is 17.9%.
Junior forward Ryder Rolston leads Notre Dame with 20 points. Senior forward Trevor Janicke and graduate forward Chayse Primeau are next in line with 18 points each. Janicke also leads the team with eight goals on the year.
The Fighting Irish reentered the USCHO.com poll this week after sweeping Wisconsin last Friday and Saturday.
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"We got to stick to us," senior forward Jagger Joshua said. "I'm not too worried about what they're doing, I think it's more important what we do and what we bring to the table and just staying and playing our systems."
The puck drops on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m. at Munn Ice Arena. Fans can tune into BTN+ to catch Friday’s game and Big Ten Network on Saturday for the senior day matchup.
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