Friday, April 12, 2024

Resiliency and grit propel MSU hockey towards a final home series against Ohio State

February 22, 2024
<p>MSU defenseman and captain Nash Nienhuis (left) and forward Artyom Levshunov speak briefly in between plays at Little Caesars Arena on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, for the "Duel in the D." MSU came away with a 3-2 victory after resisting a late-game U of M comeback.</p>

MSU defenseman and captain Nash Nienhuis (left) and forward Artyom Levshunov speak briefly in between plays at Little Caesars Arena on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, for the "Duel in the D." MSU came away with a 3-2 victory after resisting a late-game U of M comeback.

Photo by Jack Armstrong | The State News

In the blink of an eye, the Michigan State Spartans' successful hockey season has flashed by and the last home series of the regular season has arrived as the team prepares to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes for a chance to fight for the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten.

Given the bye week, the Spartans had time to rest up mentally and physically in the best way they could, but also continued their hard work to get back into the swing of things.

“(The bye week) was nice, a lot more mental rest than physical rest I’d say," sophomore defenseman Matt Basgall said. "We’re still going hard in practice, and we’ve got a time limit, but we’re still able to get out here and get our work in. But (on the) mental side, it’s nice to take a weekend and get to see college hockey outside of what we’re doing,”

The Spartans improved to being ranked No. 4 nationally on the USCHO polls during their week hiatus, as well as moving up to being tied for No. 3 in the PairWise ranking, giving the team some confidence heading into the final two weeks of the season.

Two years ago at this time, the Spartans were in the midst of a 13-game losing streak and were at some of their lowest points. For some of the seniors on the team who endured the hardship, the turnaround for the team has been nothing but extraordinary. The team's head coach Adam Nightingale compared his seniors to the word "grit," and what they felt then has led to an ongoing mentality of grit.

“Change isn’t easy and you get a new coach, and new coaching staff, it’s not easy for any of us,” Nightingale said. “So I have a ton of respect for (the seniors) for buying in, and I think a big reason we’ve taken a step is we have some legit grit. I think everyone wants to talk about grit and they want to read a book about grit and watch a documentary about grit, but the reality is to get true grit you have to go through some stuff, and our guys have gone through some stuff, and I think you’re seeing a byproduct of that, of resiliency and pushback and response.”

With the last two weekends of the season ahead, the battle for the first seed in the Big Ten tournament continues. The Spartans are neck and neck with the Wisconsin Badgers and currently have a four-point lead over them in the conference. If MSU goes on to sweep the Buckeyes, and Wisconsin splits their weekend at Pegula Ice Arena against the Penn State Nittany Lions, this will guarantee Michigan State the No. 1 seed for the tournament with home ice advantage and the opportunity to host the Big Ten championship game. 

But with the mentality that the team needs to look at one day at a time, the Spartans are aiming to stay focused solely on the upcoming series against Ohio State. The team has also stayed under the mindset of blocking out the noise for the excitement and thrill surrounding the program.

“I think that’s one of the biggest challenges in general in sports is there’s noise," Nightingale said. "The nice thing for our guys, I told them for a year-and-a-half, the message has been the same. They’re not worried about who we’re playing, we respect who we’re playing but it’s all about us and us playing our best. I’m not worried about standings, rankings, anything like that.”

After watching the Buckeyes take on a sweep of the Badgers, the Spartans still are focused on their Spartan hockey and are making sure to play the same way that they always play in hopes of six points. 

“Ohio State’s a good team, and sometimes that happens in the Big Ten where their record doesn’t show it,” senior defenseman Nash Nienhuis said. “We’re going to be ready for them and we know they’re good, so we have to be on our best game.”

After a successful 2022-2023 season, having an 11-11-2 conference record and a run in the national tournament until they were beaten by the national champions, Quinnipiac, the Ohio State Buckeyes have had a season of struggles through the 2023-2024 campaign. The team gained only three conference wins thus far and has lost several of their key players to the transfer portal or for a career in the NHL.

Their wins this season have come from a split weekend against Notre Dame back in early January and a sweep of the No. 2 team in the Big Ten, the Wisconsin Badgers, just last weekend after a 3-2 overtime win and a dominant 3-1 win.

The Buckeyes are currently sitting at the bottom of the conference, unranked in the polls, and will be outside of a spot in the national tournament for this season. They hold an overall 11-15-4 record and are hunting the Spartans to keep their win streak alive for the time being.

The battle for the series sweep for the last home series of the season for Michigan State begins on Friday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. at Munn Ice Arena and will be streamed on Big Ten Plus. On Saturday, Feb. 24, the Spartans will play at 6 p.m. at Munn Ice Arena and will conclude the game with a celebratory Senior Night. This game will also be streamed on Big Ten Plus.

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