Tuesday, April 23, 2024

MSU hockey by the numbers: Spartans set franchise milestones and soared through 2023-2024 season

March 10, 2024
Sophomore forward Isaac Howard (22) celebrating his goal during a game against Ohio State University at Munn Ice Arena on Feb. 24, 2024.
Sophomore forward Isaac Howard (22) celebrating his goal during a game against Ohio State University at Munn Ice Arena on Feb. 24, 2024. —
Photo by Donté Smith | The State News

After a clinching victory to earn the title of Big Ten Champions for the first time in program history, the Michigan State men's hockey team traveled back to East Lansing in preparation for their semifinal game and an opportunity to host an opponent for the Saturday, March 16 game in the Big Ten Tournament. 

While Michigan State silently waits for its turn in the tournament, the success of the Spartans' season has been anything but unnoticed, from record-breaking achievements for the team, for the coaches and the youngest goaltender in college hockey.

Fixes early on in the season

The achievements started early on for the Spartans. From press releases across the season, the Spartans completed their first weekend of play against Lake Superior State University and won their first home opening game of the season since the 2019-2020 campaign. The first game also allowed for the new undergraduate transfer students to shine through, as sophomore forward Joey Larson had an assist, junior forward Red Savage had a goal and an assist and sophomore forward Isaac Howard earned a goal to push the team to a 5-2 victory.

The second weekend of the season however set the Spartans back slightly, as a series against the Air Force left them in a 6-5 defeat on night one, even after a late rally. However, night two was pure excitement as Larson was an opportunist, tallying up a four-point night and his first career hat trick, helping the team to a split weekend and a 5-3 win. 

The Spartans quickly made a comeback the following weekend as the swept Canisius at Munn Ice Arena and went on the road to face the No. 1 team in the country, Boston College, where they fell 6-3 on night one, and 5-1 on night two in a near shutout game. The only goal from night two came from sophomore forward Karsen Dorwart.

And with the weekend of being swept at Boston College, the Spartans whipped up into shape: they went undefeated in regulation until early January.

The team kept climbing up as they traveled to Columbus, Ohio to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes. In his first Big Ten conference game, freshman netminder Trey Augustine performed a shutout with a final score of 6-0, and helped orchestrate a 6-4 night two win. The Spartans started with a 2-0 record for the first time in conference history, and their first road sweep since November 2016 against the Wisconsin Badgers. 

Michigan State then began a four game home-stand which started with the Penn State Nittany Lions, ultimately fighting for a tie in regulation, then losing in a shootout, winning 2-1 on night two.

Michigan State: becoming the hunted

But Michigan State's home series against the then-No. 1 ranked Wisconsin Badgers would set a high standard for MSU: the Spartans became the hunted, no longer the hunter. The Spartans posted a home sweep over the Wisconsin Badgers, including a 4-2 night one win and a 3-2 night two win. The night one win was the first time they had beaten a No. 1 ranked team since the 2009 season, and night two would complete the historic run. MSU would go on to be the first team in the country to get to double-digit wins in the regular season so early on.

MSU headed on the road the following weekend of Thanksgiving to take on the dominant Minnesota Golden Gophers, and after 14 consecutive losses, the Spartans took a shootout win to mark the victory, but would fall short on night two after a heartbreaker of an overtime loss. 

After a bye-week, the Spartans traveled back home for a series against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, taking a 5-2 win against the team on night one and a 2-1 win on night two to finish out the series and remain undefeated at home in the Big Ten. Michigan State rounded out the first semester with a 9-0-1 record and had a high of 96 total shots on goal over the weekend.

After the Great Lakes Invitational behind their backs in December, the Spartans took a 5-2 victory in an exhibition game against the National Team Development Program, but then went back on the road post-winter break to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions for the final time of the regular season. Night one was nothing less than exhilarating as a 5-0 win was pulled off, and Augustine snagged his second shutout victory of the season and then grabbed the sweep with a 7-3 victory on night two. With this, the Spartans kept their first-place lead in the Big Ten and climbed ahead of Wisconsin for the remainder of the season. 

However, a tough loss would come about the following weekend as Michigan State played its in-state rivals: the Michigan Wolverines. On night one, the Spartans lost 7-1 at home; the emotions between the rivals ran high as they combined for a total of 168 penalty minutes and 11 game misconducts. That was Michigan State's first home loss in 11 months. Night two at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor was different for the Spartans: they were down 4-1 halfway through the second period but went on to score four unanswered goals and take a dominant 7-5 away win, the first win at Yost since 2019. From the first weekend of the season through Jan. 20, MSU had a total of 103 goals, and in the previous season through 38 games, the team had 107 goals.

MSU went on to a split weekend for two more consecutive weekends against Minnesota and Notre Dame. Against the Fighting Irish, Augustine finished with 30 saves and was able to help execute a 4-0 shutout win.

Duel in the D

But the Spartans headed back to Ann Arbor for their final series against the Wolverines, and they quickly solidified a dominant 5-1 road victory, which was the fifth road win since Jan. 1. But the weekend would continue to rise from there. For the first time since the 2016 campaign the Spartans took home a victory at the Duel in the D, marking the first win for them during the Little Caesars Arena era. With the record at the time of 19–7-3, they marked a new record number of wins since the 2011-2012 season. 

Emotions ran high after the weekend rush of the Michigan sweep and the Spartans went to a bye week, but the stakes were high for the final home game of the season against the Ohio State Buckeyes. This weekend marked an early chance to clinch the Big Ten Regular season title, but Michigan State fell on night one by a score of 6-2, but night two’s Senior Night brought an exciting win for the team to celebrate with a 5-2 victory. To round out the game, all six graduating seniors took the ice, including third-string goalie senior Jon Mor

Clinching the title

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The Spartans would go on to put a game in the history books as they took on the Wisconsin Badgers for one last time. With a 5-2 win in regulation on night one, the Spartans secured their first ever Big Ten title in program history. And though they would go on to split the weekend against the Badgers, the Spartans continued on their record-breaking season clinching the title and the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament with an advantage on the bye-week and a chance to host a semifinal game.

The Spartans will play on Saturday, March 16 against the lowest remaining seed, which is yet to be determined, as well as an undetermined time, with a chance to take a win and move on to host the Big Ten championship.

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