Friday, April 12, 2024

Creating history: MSU hockey beats Michigan in Big Ten championship game

March 24, 2024
<p>The Spartans celebrate the game winning goal from freshman defenseman Patrick Geary (2) during a game against University of Michigan at Munn Ice Arena on March 23, 2024. MSU secured the Big Ten Tournament championship with their win over the Wolverines.</p>

The Spartans celebrate the game winning goal from freshman defenseman Patrick Geary (2) during a game against University of Michigan at Munn Ice Arena on March 23, 2024. MSU secured the Big Ten Tournament championship with their win over the Wolverines.

Photo by Donté Smith | The State News

As the clock ran down and the crowd inside Munn Ice Arena was on its feet, the winning goal slipped past the University of Michigan goaltender, hit the side of the post and went into the net. Freshman defenseman Patrick Geary, the player who scored the final goal, went skating toward freshman goaltender Trey Augustine, his teammates following, as the Spartans conquered their mission of becoming not only Big Ten regular season champions but also the Big Ten Tournament champions, all in one season.

Geary, who was one of the heroes of the game, said that senior goaltender Jon Mor was the player who helped him solidify his shot, as he recalls hearing him yell "shoot the puck" before he ripped it onward to the net. 11 total Spartans put themselves on the scoresheet in the big game, as well as Geary, who had an assist and the game-winning goal.

"I kind of just got the puck and our third goalie, Jon Mor, just told me to shoot it, and I just put my head down and ripped it and looked up last second to see it go in," Geary said. "I just turned around to (Augustine), because he's obviously a big reason we won that game," Geary said.

The historic season marks just the third time in Big Ten conference history that a team has successfully been the Big Ten regular season champions as well as the tournament champions. This feat, however, is a first for the Spartans.

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The Spartans celebrate their victory against University of Michigan at Munn Ice Arena on March 23, 2024. MSU secured the Big Ten Tournament championship with their win over the Wolverines.

Playing their in-state rivals, the home crowd continued with their electricity, drowning out the cheers from the fans in their Maize and Blue colors in the arena and continuing to chant for its home team. The Michigan State men's hockey team, who completely transformed from last season to this one, has earned the respect of the home crowd through continuous hard work and its need to be a hockey town for East Lansing.

“I think we've sold out 20 some (games) in a row now, and standing room only, and there (are) people here at 4 a.m. lining up to go in, so this is a hockey town,” head coach Adam Nightingale said. "It goes back to Ron (Mason) laying the foundation and making it a hockey town and making it big in the community."

Michigan State was able to win at home and have home-ice advantage the entire tournament after the team clinched the No. 1 seed in the tournament, as well as the Big Ten regular season title, after a win against Wisconsin during the last week of the regular season. 

"I was excited, especially to do it at home," Nightingale said. "I think you look at the guys that have been here, and you can argue that might have been the biggest game in Munn history, and look at what we're trying to get to, and we still have work to go. I mean, that crowd was awesome, and it was awesome last week. It's been awesome all year and for them to stick with us and believe in us — I know we had to earn it — and I think that's what makes it even more special."

For Augustine in particular, his 2024 season has been nothing short of amazing. He led the USA World Juniors team to a gold medal in Sweden in early January, played as the hard-core defensive netminder, was the tournament's Most Outstanding Player and made 33 saves against the Wolverines. 

"Especially being in front of our home crowd, it's unreal, and, honestly, you never know when you’re going to get an opportunity like this ever again,” Augustine said.

The Spartans have had the chance to play for several trophy games this past season, only taking a fall in a shootout loss to Michigan Tech at the Great Lakes Invitational. However, the Spartans have continued to win three trophy games, including the Duel in the D, the regular season Big Ten title and the Big Ten Tournament. Nightingale, who is in his second season with Michigan State, knows the importance of those games and truthfully what it means to have the opportunity to play in that kind of high stakes game.

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The Spartans celebrate their victory against University of Michigan at Munn Ice Arena on March 23, 2024. MSU secured the Big Ten Tournament championship with their win over the Wolverines.

The season doesn't end for Michigan State with this win, as the team will make an appearance at the NCAA Frozen Four Tournament. The mindset for this tournament will be the same from this entire season: play one game at a time and focus on one day at a time.

"We will find out who we're playing, and our job is to be ready and start preparing," Nightingale said. "It doesn’t matter the team; I think all of these teams have earned an opportunity. We've got to be ready for where we're playing."

The Michigan State Spartans will now head to the NCAA Frozen Four Tournament as an automatically qualified team, waiting to hear on their location, time played and dates as well. All information will be announced on Sunday, March 24 at 6:30 p.m. on ESPNU and ESPN+.

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