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MSU hockey Big Ten Tournament semifinals win over Ohio State aided by Munn Ice Arena crowd

March 17, 2024
<p>Spartan players celebrating their victory against Ohio State University at Munn Ice Arena on March 16, 2024. Michigan State University won the game 2-1, advancing them to the final round of the Big Ten Tournament.</p>

Spartan players celebrating their victory against Ohio State University at Munn Ice Arena on March 16, 2024. Michigan State University won the game 2-1, advancing them to the final round of the Big Ten Tournament.

Photo by Donté Smith | The State News

As the fans poured in, and the "Go Green, Go White" chants rang out throughout Munn Ice Arena before puck drop was even underway, the Spartans were ready to take the ice. After a hard-fought 60 minutes, the Spartans skated away with an intense 2-1 win, playing tough defense, breaking up Ohio State passes and connecting passes to control a majority of the game.

The excitement pregame for the team was quickly amped up when senior defenseman and captain Nash Nienhuis received a text from a long-time National Hockey League, or NHL, player and a family friend of his, with a message for the team to go out and do what was needed to get the huge win. The message was from long-time player Mark Messier, a person with 1,756 NHL games played under his belt and over 1,800 career points.

“(Messier) sent a message to me, and I mean obviously he's one of the greatest players to ever do it, and a great leader as well," Nienhuis said. "So, obviously, (it's) really cool to get that from him, and he wanted to send it along to the team. It's great to see it, and nice to have his support."

What did the encouraging message say?

“The first part of it, there was writing on the wall and it said 'Conquer,' and he just kind of applied that to us, and just thinking about some of the big games that he’s played in, and that it's bigger than just the game," Nienhuis said. "(It's about) the amount of work that we’ve put in and the people that have helped us get to where we are. You have to kind of sit back and appreciate that and use that as an extra edge for energy."

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Freshman forward Tommi Männistö (10) taking a shot on goal during a game against Ohio State University at Munn Ice Arena on Mar. 16, 2024.

That feeling the team had only continued when the Spartans took the ice to a sold-out crowd at Munn Ice Arena, and a crowd that was unlike anything heard before for the players, as well as alumni coaches like head coach Adam Nightingale and director of player development Brad Fast — who was a captain of the MSU hockey 2000-2001 season and led the team to a Frozen Four appearance. Another goal the team had in mind was to earn the respect of the home crowd for the environment that it brought.

"I give our guys credit because I think they've earned some respect here," Nightingale said. "I think that was one of our goals two years ago, was to try and earn (respect), and not expect people to just come and watch (you) because you're Michigan State hockey. You've got to play hard, and we’re not perfect, but you've got to play team hockey. I think that's what our fans respect about our guys. If you come to watch us play, we’re going to play like a team, and our fans, win or lose, will rally around us."

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Freshman defenseman Maxim Štrbák (8) battling with freshman forward Sam Deckhut (25) during a game between Michigan State University and Ohio State University at Munn Ice Arena on March 16, 2024.

Fast, who has been with MSU for a long time both as a player and coach, said this game's noise level was "flat out the loudest" he's ever heard at Munn. To Nightingale, it's because of the support the team has been able to get this season.

For Nienhuis, as a captain of the program's record-breaking squad, the feeling of his first career playoff game at Munn was indescribable. To make it even better, he scored the game-winning goal to solidify MSU's victory over Ohio State.

"Amazing atmosphere," Nienhuis said. "We talked about it, probably the craziest it’s ever been, and coach Nightingale mentioned, too, he’s been here in some of the crazy years with Fast. It really does help us, the extra juice. (It's) so amazing to be part of and get to win."

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Junior forward Red Savage (21) facing off against freshman forward Ryan Gordon (29) during a game between Michigan State University and Ohio State University at Munn Ice Arena on March 16, 2024.

Nightingale told the players the game was win or go home, and the Spartans knew what needed to be done against a scorching-hot team. The Spartans will need to have the same mindset when playing against their in-state rivals, the University of Michigan Wolverines, next weekend in the Big Ten championship game.

"I think we can speak for everyone; we love the game of hockey and we want to keep playing," Nienhuis said. "So it's another game to improve and to work and get better, so, obviously, we want to win and keep playing for as long as possible."

Michigan State will be back at Munn Ice Arena against the University of Michigan on Saturday, March 23 at 8 p.m. Big Ten Network will air the game. This is Michigan State's first time hosting the Big Ten championship at home.

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