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MSU hockey prepares to host Big Ten Tournament semifinals against Ohio State

March 15, 2024
Ohio State Senior forward Joe Dunlap #21 tries to score against the Spartans while MSU Sophomore forward Tiernan Shoudy #13 defends at Munn Ice Arena on Feb. 23, 2024.
Ohio State Senior forward Joe Dunlap #21 tries to score against the Spartans while MSU Sophomore forward Tiernan Shoudy #13 defends at Munn Ice Arena on Feb. 23, 2024. —
Photo by Fatih Gorkem Imamoglu | The State News

An opportunity lies on the horizon for the Michigan State hockey team as the Big Ten tournament is finally here. The opportunity? Survive and advance.

After clinching the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament and being crowned the regular season champions, the Spartans were awarded with a bye week. The Spartans now prepare to take on the No. 7 seed Ohio State University, a team that's been hot as it took down the No. 2 seed Wisconsin Badgers in a three-game series.

However, this series is one and done. Whichever team finishes the strongest moves on to the Big Ten championship game against No. 3 Minnesota or No. 4 Michigan. 

"(The team) has done a good job on just focusing on things that matter," head coach Adam Nightingale said. "It's win or go home, and you’ve got to make sure you play your best hockey and be detailed."

For the first time, the Spartans claimed a spot to host a Big Ten playoff game and have home ice advantage, a necessary part of the game that could help them propel a win against Ohio State.

"I mean, first of all, I think it's really exciting," sophomore forward Tiernan Shoudy said. "We get our first home game in the Big Ten playoffs, but it's kind of just the next game. We're really happy with the regular season, but we're kind of just focused on the next game."

However, with the talks of the game around campus and around the city of East Lansing, the Spartans don't feel the lingering pressure and the continuous noise that rides upon the game and what can happen.

"I think anybody you play at this time of the year is going to be really good, and they're going to be playing their best, especially after the year we had," Shoudy said. "We're going to get everybody's best. We're just more focused on ourselves than anything else."

For freshman, sophomores and transfer students, being able to host a Big Ten game is special, but for the veteran players — such as fifth-year forward Nicolas Müller, who has spent all five of his college years in a Spartan uniform — it's even more special.

"(Hosting a playoff game) feels incredible," Müller said. "We were so close last year, so it feels really good to host the semifinals here against Ohio State, and then hopefully more (games) to come."

The Spartans witnessed a weekend almost identical to this in weeks prior, as the Buckeyes swept the Wisconsin Badgers at home while the Spartans were on a bye-week. Then, during the last home series of the regular season the Spartans were taken down on night one by Ohio State with a final of 6-2 but controlled the ice on night two with a winning score of 5-2. 

"Coming out of a break isn't an excuse for not being ready." Nightingale said. "I've looked at the couple years we've been here, we've been really good coming out of break, so we just take care of one day at a time, and make sure we're practicing the right way and maintain it."

Throughout the whole season at Munn Ice Arena, the cheering and the environment of the crowd has felt as though a playoff game were happening, but now is time for the real deal and for the crowd to bring the same energy and more.

"It's kind of been a playoff atmosphere this whole year, I would say, but it’s gonna be awesome," Shoudy said. "It’s really exciting that the fans and alumni and everyone can be proud again of a team here, playing here, so it's awesome."

What the team keeps in mind to continue through the tournament is the mentality that anyone can beat anyone, and with playing in the most important tournament of the season thus far, the Spartans have to remember that.

The Spartans and the Buckeyes begin their quest for the tournament championship game on Saturday, March 16 at Munn Ice Arena. The game will begin at 6:30 p.m. and will be streamed on Big Ten Network.

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