Tuesday, April 23, 2024

What's next for MSU hockey after Spartans clinch first Big Ten title in program history?

March 3, 2024
<p>Team members surround senior right defenseman Dennis Cesana (22) in between plays in the first period. The Spartans fell to the Buckeyes, 4-1, at Munn Ice Arena on Jan. 21, 2022. </p>

Team members surround senior right defenseman Dennis Cesana (22) in between plays in the first period. The Spartans fell to the Buckeyes, 4-1, at Munn Ice Arena on Jan. 21, 2022.

Photo by Lauren DeMay | The State News

With continuous hard work and a season unlike any other, the Michigan State Spartans hockey team is the regular season Big Ten champions for the first time in conference history. Here is a summary of MSU's last weekend of regular season play and what is in store for the team as it heads into the Big Ten Tournament

Night One

The last week of the regular season stood on the line for the Spartans as they sat ahead of the Wisconsin Badgers by two points, and with an outright regulation win for MSU to earn three points, they were able to clinch the win that they needed to be crowned Big Ten Champions. But the 5-2 win did not come easy for the team, as a continuous fight was made for their crown.

“It’s been a long time coming," senior forward Jeremy Davidson said postgame of night one. "Obviously, two years ago I wouldn’t think we would be where we’re at, but we’ve put in a lot of work, got the right guys here, the right coaches, and we’re exactly where we should be. It’s unreal."

The Badgers came in flying off of puck drop and within 45 seconds they made a name for themselves on the board and went up on the Spartans early, but MSU had a quick rebuttal and continued to get into the groove of the game.

“Our line went out, first shift, had a good shift and a couple good chances, and it’s just that urgency and that mindset of, 'We need to win one game and one period is 20 minutes,' and we were able to do that so it felt good,” Davidson said.

Davidson finished with two goals on night one of the series, one an even-strength goal and one an empty netter

While the score had shown a win for the Spartans, the shot count was highly in favor of their opponents as Wisconsin laid 44 shots at the goal, matching a season-best save count for freshman goaltender Trey Augustine. The first minutes of the third period was a turn for MSU though, as the Spartans controlled their offensive zone and helped Augustine in the net and take over the game.

“The first five or six minutes of the (third) period we had most of the action down in their end,” Augustine said. “And then for me, kind of just realizing that if they do get a good opportunity just take over and don’t let it in.”

Though the shots favored the Badgers, Michigan State continued playing Spartan hockey into victory, and a game-winning goal for the Spartans to clinch the title came from graduate forward Reed Lebster with just over seven minutes left in the third period as he wrapped in front of Wisconsin's goaltender and went five-hole to give the Spartans the 3-2 advantage. That winning goal was followed with two more empty net goals for some assurance, as MSU eventually won 5-2. 

With the 5-2 win having meaning, what was most meaningful was the moments on the ice after the team victory; it was a long time coming for the Spartan hockey team.

“I’m proud of our guys, it’s not easy, you’re talking 23 years since we’ve done it,” Nightingale said. “And when you talk about a regular-season championship... this is the 23rd game in our conference and all seven (teams) are in the top 25 PairWise, (so there are) no nights off. I’m proud of the guys, super excited for them, that’s something they’ll have with them for the rest of their life.”

Night Two

The second night of the series, on the other hand, posed a challenge for the Spartans as they fell to Wisconsin with a final score of 4-1 and split the final series of the regular season. But the mindset in the game heading into the playoffs was that it could be anyone's game at any time

“I think we knew going in it was going to be a tough game, it was a really unique situation," Nightingale said. "(We're) playing a really good team, we were neck-and-neck and we won the conference last night (on their) Senior Night, and I think they’d only lost one game at home,” Nightingale said. “I give (Wisconsin) credit because they came out and they were really hungry and they were on our heels."

The hunger from the Badgers was clear within the first three minutes as they replicated an early goal from night one of the series to go up early and continued to score a second goal just after in their hunt to victory over the Spartans.

Augustine had a 36-save night and went on to total 80 saves on the weekend, having a dominant defensive performance between the pipes to help his team to victory on night one and to keep pucks out of the net on night two. 

Sophomore forward Karsen Dorwart had the lone goal for the team in the first period on the power play to prevent a shutout from happening against the Badgers

The Spartans continue their work as the end of the regular season is just the beginning of the postseason, and what is to come for the team who hope to continue to play their Spartan hockey.

What’s next?

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With the dominant 5-2 win on night one of the series and the capturting of the Big Ten regular season title, the Spartans claimed the No. 1 seed in the upcoming conference tournament.

With the No. 1 seed, this gives Michigan State the weekend of March 8-10 off as the other teams in the conference continue to fight for a spot in the second round of the tournament, but MSU will not play until March 16. The team the Spartans will play will be decided by the outcome of the best-of-three series between Notre Dame and the University of Michigan.

MSU will go on to play one of those two teams in a one-game tilt in the semifinals, and that will decide who goes on to play in the Big Ten championship game

The time of the game for the Spartans on March 16 has yet to be determined and tickets are yet to be announced for sale yet, but will commence on March 8 at 10 a.m. as they open to the public

The Spartans end their record-breaking regular season with a 15-6-2 record as they head to take on more post-season hockey in the Big Ten Tournament against the lowest remaining seed, and continue down the stretch to more victorious outcomes. 

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