Nearly two years ago to the day, Dylan St. Cyr made 27 and 29 saves on back-to-back nights at Munn Ice Arena to earn a series shutout. The only problem was he was wearing Notre Dame’s navy blue and gold sweater instead of Michigan State’s green and white.
Those were a pair of St. Cyr’s final few games at Notre Dame before arriving at MSU this summer after a one-year stint at Quinnipiac. This weekend could be a full-circle series for the graduate transfer goaltender with an opportunity to bounce his former team from the Big Ten Tournament.
“It's a pretty unique storyline within the series, right?” Michigan State head hockey coach Adam Nightingale said Tuesday. "I think one thing with Dylan, I think it speaks to him is the Notre Dame's staff is genuinely excited about the success he's had. He's a great person and he had a great career at Notre Dame. I'm sure when he's back around campus they welcome him with open arms. Obviously now he's on the other side of the fence as part of this rivalry.”
St. Cyr has been everything Michigan State has asked since he announced his commitment to the program in May. He’s started in all but one regular-season game, boasting a 15-16-2 record, a 2.84 goals against average and a .914 save percentage. St. Cyr surpassed the 2,000 career saves milestone during MSU’s final regular-season series at Wisconsin.
He also has three shutouts on the season, one of which came in East Lansing against his former team.
St. Cyr’s first battle versus the Fighting Irish went horribly wrong in a 5-0 thrashing in October. He was given the starting nod again the next night, allowing just one goal in a tie and MSU shootout win. Then when Notre Dame traveled to East Lansing at the beginning of February, St. Cyr was remarkable in a 32-save shutout, followed the next night by a 33-save, 3-2 victory for the Spartans.
“I think it's again, same kind of thing as the past two weekends, always a little fun rivalry and good to go back and play against your buddies,” St. Cyr said. “But I think that's what makes hockey exciting, is off the ice, obviously the camaraderie. But once you kind of get on the ice, it's back at that game mode and we have a job to do.”
Besides his steady presence in the net, St. Cyr provides a trait that nobody else on the roster possesses: a Big Ten Tournament win. Incredibly, Michigan State has never won a conference tournament game since its inception in the 2013-14 season.
St. Cyr joined the Fighting Irish as a freshman during the 2017-18 season, appearing in five games and starting in four. Notre Dame won the Big Ten Tournament and advanced all the way to the National Championship that year, though St. Cyr did not play in the playoff games. Then as a sophomore, Notre Dame won the conference tournament again (including two shutout wins over the Spartans) but St. Cyr again watched from the bench, playing in just six regular-season games. It wasn’t until the 2020-21 season when he became Notre Dame’s full-time starter that he played in a Big Ten Tournament game, a 6-3 loss to Penn State in the temporarily altered single-elimination tournament.
Through his four seasons at Notre Dame and his one season at Quinnipiac where he started 11 games, St. Cyr said having the right mentality is paramount in order for MSU to acquire its first Big Ten Tournament win.
“I think it's a mindset is the biggest thing,” St. Cyr said. “I think that's the change in the culture that's having to come now, is having the mindset to expect to win rather than going there hoping to win. I think being on two teams prior to this that had that mindset, going into playoffs each year, I think that's what we need to bring to the table this weekend: knowing and going there that we're confident and that we can get away with a win this weekend.”
St. Cyr said after shutting out his former team in February that he still knows about half of the players, including opposing senior goaltender Ryan Bischel. Bischel joined the Irish in 2019-20, splitting time as the starting goaltender before becoming the full-time starter this season. He’s been a huge piece to Notre Dame’s success, ranking third in the Big Ten in goals against average and first in save percentage. Last Saturday, Bischel made 48 saves while allowing one goal in an overtime win at Michigan to earn Notre Dame the fourth-seed in the tournament.
“We're excited and I think for (St. Cyr), he's just gotta go be himself,” Nightingale said. “He doesn't have to be anything different than he's been all year for us. He's been great and we got a ton of confidence in him.”
Two wins this weekend in South Bend won’t just be a personal gratification for St. Cyr, but also monumental for Michigan State. The Saturday loss at Wisconsin was a big blow for the Spartans’ NCAA Tournament aspirations, requiring MSU to, at the bare minimum, advance past the first-round of the Big Ten Tournament to get its record over .500. Then from there, the Spartans likely still need help from teams outside the conference to earn an at-large bid.
But if Michigan State can’t get past Notre Dame, its rejuvenating season will end this weekend.
“Well, I've had a few last-weekend-evers in college hockey, so this is really nothing new,” St. Cyr said. “And I think for me, it's just really where we can go to push forward and obviously I'm happy to be a part of the change and I'm really happy that I came here and used that decision. But I think again that we have some room to go if we come out with a win this weekend, and that's kind of the confidence we need to have going into the weekend.”