After clinching the regular season title, MSU hockey begins its postseason with a Big Ten Tournament semifinal match

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Emily Martin

The Michigan State hockey team must think they are having déjà vu.

The No. 1 seed Spartans start their postseason campaign against the No. 7 seed Ohio State Buckeyes this Saturday. After a big victory over No. 2 seed Wisconsin to move on in the tournament, the Buckeyes came into East Lansing just as hot as they did the last time after they swept Wisconsin.

“I think they are a better team than what they are in the rankings,” graduate forward Nico Müller said. “We have to be ready and it’s a big showdown game for us.”

The Buckeyes had two commanding wins against the Badgers, with two 3-1 wins on nights one and three in the quarterfinals matchup. Since their sweep of Wisconsin back in February, the Buckeyes have scored 25 goals in nine games. 

However the Spartans –who just clinched their first-ever Big Ten regular season title – are coming into this matchup with just as much fire as the Buckeyes.

“The stretch they’ve had here has been really good,” head coach Adam Nightingale said. “It’s not a fluke. They’re a legit hockey team and we’re excited about playing them.”

After ending last season in 5th place in the Big Ten and ranked 3rd in the preseason polls, Michigan State had high hopes coming into year two of the Adam Nightingale Era. With a group of talented new players joining the returning players who saw success last season, there was a new buzz around Munn Ice Arena.

The sound would soon become familiar: the sold-out crowd’s thunderous cheers, the goal horn, and the banging on the glass as 5th-year forward Nico Müller scored the first goal of the season against Lake Superior State. The Spartans put on a show for their home crowd for home games this year. Although there were some heartbreaking games along the way, the Spartans fans have stuck by the team all year on their historic season.

“There’s a little more buzz and a little bit louder in the arena,” Müller said. “We’re scoring goals, but I think the fans have been incredible throughout my whole five years, so I think it’s very special to play at Munn.”

Emily Martin

The team became one of the top offensive producers in the country, averaging 3.9 goals per game. The scoring couldn’t be traced to one specific player or line. Up and down, the Spartan roster produced points, from the first line to the fourth and through every defensive pairing. 

When this team scores, they score big. In 22 of 34 games this season, the Spartans scored four or more goals, with contributions in each game coming from up and down the roster. The Michigan State offense was a well-oiled machine in the first half of the season. While the team had big wins in the second half of the season, there were also instances of falling behind against Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Notre Dame.

“When you step back and look at our conference, four of the seven teams are in the top ten in the Pairwise,” Nightingale said. “There are no nights off and the other teams are really good hockey teams.”

The Spartans are a young team. From Mike Richter Award finalist freshman goaltender Trey Augustine to the team’s point leaders – freshman defenseman Artyom Levshunov and sophomore Karsen Dowart, to the leading goal scorer sophomore Joey Larson, there is plenty of promise as well as room for growth. Every game is an opportunity to learn, especially the last series against Ohio State when they were also coming off a bye.

“I think we learned how important the off week really is and obviously with playoffs it’s a little more intense,” Shoudy said. “We learned a lot from the last time and we will be ready this time for sure.”

Looking forward to this matchup against Ohio State, the team’s response will mean everything. This game is one and done. If the Spartans fall down early, the bounce back will have to happen in the same game, not the next night. 

“You just got to be ready, especially in single elimination, anything can happen,” Shoudy said. “After the year we have had, we are going to get everybody’s best.”

Michigan State and Ohio State will face off in this single-elimination at 6:30 pm on Saturday, Mar. 16. The winner will go on to the Big Ten Tournament finals, playing the winner of the Michigan vs. Minnesota matchup. 

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