Notre Dame is on the clock for the Michigan State hockey team, as the team begins to round up to head to South Bend, Ind. to take on the Fighting Irish for the final time of the regular season.
After a split weekend against the Minnesota Golden Gophers -- with a comeback 3-2 win on night one and a tough night two loss of 5-1 -- the Spartans are ready to hit the road and play a great series of hockey and learn how to improve from the previous games. Currently, Michigan State is 17-6-3 overall, including an 11-3-2 record in the Big Ten and is 6-4-1 away.
“This time of year there’s no easy offense,” head coach Adam Nightingale said. “Especially playing against teams that are structurally sound, you have to work to make sure you get to the inside… so an opportunity to improve in that area.”
The Spartans have not competed against the Fighting Irish since early December, their last game before Winter break. During the last series, Michigan State pulled off a great sweep with scores of 5-2 and 2-1. The team has been working at practice as well as focusing on specific things that worked for their first series against Notre Dame that they can take to their next series.
With a lineup change that has come in the past few games, freshman forward Griffin Jurecki has taken a fourth-line spot and helped the Spartans in their Friday night comeback against Minnesota for his first goal of the season. When looking ahead to this weekend, Jurecki has great expectations for how the series will go and how the team itself has been playing and practicing for the Notre Dame series.
“When we play our game, we’re really tough to play with and when we don’t, we give the other team chances and they’re able to capitalize,” Jurecki said. “If we’re able to play our game the whole 60 minutes, we’re a really good team and we make it hard on other teams to play with.”
With the second half of the season underway and a tournament appearance on the horizon, the Spartans know that the next series will be more difficult than the first as both Michigan State and Notre Dame have progressed and figured out their fortes, especially as the season has progressed.
“I think we are learning as it goes," senior defenseman Nash Nienhuis said. "This second half is obviously more challenging and every team is getting better throughout the season and I think we are as well, so it’s obviously going to be tougher hockey down the stretch and we’re going to see every team's best. As we say, we’re kind of 'the hunted' right now.”
Staying on an even keel even after two split weekends in a row is what Nightingale knows best and continuing to stay with the same mindset and continue to grow his next shift mentality, the team knows that if they keep playing the Spartan way, it will lead to bigger and better things.
“It’s really nice to have a coach like (Nightingale),” Nienhuis said. “We know that he’s got a crazy passion for the team and wanting to win. Not that he's not upset that we lose, but it doesn’t do any good yelling and screaming, and I think we respect that about him and we feel the same way as him when something doesn’t go our way, but it’s all about the next game and next shift mentality.”
The Fighting Irish are currently 7-7-2 in the Big Ten conference and are on a three-game win streak after a split series against Ohio State and two wins against Penn State on their home ice at Compton Family Ice Arena.
Notre Dame goalie Ryan Bischel had a total of 38 saves and only allowed one goal on night one of the Penn State series, as well as dominating in faceoff wins on night one 32-18. On night two, Bischel posted 35 saves but allowed three goals.
The Fighting Irish on home ice overall are currently 11-6 and they are 2-5-2 away, as well as posting an overall 13-11-2 record on the season.
The teams will battle it out on Friday, Feb. 2 in South Bend at 7:30 p.m. as well as on Saturday, Feb. 3 at 6 p.m., where the Spartans look for a sweep to keep their first-place stand in the Big Ten and continue to add to their season point total. Both games will be streamed on Peacock.
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