The Michigan State Spartans went into the rivalry weekend against the University of Michigan Wolverines with the same end goal in mind they've had all season: to sweep their opponent. In a harshly fought battle, the Spartans did just that as they concluded the weekend with a 3-2 victory of the Duel in the D matchup, Michigan State's first win since 2016.
"After last night you knew that (Michigan) was going to come out and we had to weather some storms," head coach Adam Nightingale said after the game. "When you're talking about playing a quality opponent, you need to be ready for that and not panic."
Within the great success of the Spartans' successful weekend against their in-state rivals, there were several other pieces of the puzzle that had to come together, and one of the players who helped Michigan State's success was junior forward Tanner Kelly. Kelly was able to help the Spartans both nights of the series, as he had a combined three points through the series (two goals, one assist).
Kelly was also quick to credit his linemates, sophomore forward Tiernan Shoudy and freshman forward Tommi Männistö for his success. The trio combined for three goals and six assists over the weekend.
"It definitely helps the confidence seeing the puck hit the back of the net," Kelly said. "I think all around tonight it was just a really good team effort. My linemates have been unbelievable for me. (Shoudy and Männistö) make playing the game really easy for me, so I think they create a lot … But, I think overall it was a good effort from everyone tonight."
Through the success of the games, the confidence for Kelly continues to grow and show on the ice. Also growing are the consistent chemistry and the confidence games like these have given him.
After the first series against Michigan back in January, Kelly was scratched for three games after night one for a flare of his temper that was hard to control in the rivalry series. While he had success in this away series, a big aspect for Nightingale was that he had to learn from previous series and understand actions in those games have consequences.
"With Tanner (Kelly) up here, we've maybe laughed about it, maybe not laughed about it, but I think it's a really good lesson on accountability," Nightingale said. "When we played, (Kelly) took some penalties, and we had a conversation, and he missed some games, and (Kelly) is a critical piece to our team, but I made a promise to these guys that we’re going to hold you to a standard. And, I believe in forgiveness, but there (are) consequences for your actions."
Nightingale said Kelly has continued to better himself at practice to get back to where he needed to be for the rest of the season that is to come.
With the three wins against the Wolverines coming in a single season for the first time since the 2009-2010 season, the Spartans use the confidence to move forward, but the one day, one practice, one game at a time mentality continues to stick.
"I just think we take it one game at a time." Nightingale said. "I think if we win, we look at things we need to work on and things we did well, and if we lose, we look at things we did well and things we need to work on. I think we just take it one game at a time."
The Spartans will now head to an off weekend to continue their hard work in practices and rest up, as well as coming back to prepare the following weekend. On Friday, Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Feb 24 at 6 p.m., the Spartans will have their final home game of the regular season against Ohio State. Both games will be streamed on Big Ten+.