Michigan State hockey earns first NCAA Tournament victory since 2008, 5-4

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Aleesa Luecker

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. — The last time Michigan State hockey was in St. Louis, it walked away with a national championship in 2007. On Friday night, it inched one step closer, defeating the Western Michigan Broncos 5-4 in overtime thanks to Kalamazoo native, senior forward Jeremy Davidson.

“It was special for sure. I grew up going to Western Michigan hockey games,” Davidson said. “Getting the win makes it that much better.”

Michigan State is no stranger to playing from behind and has seen a lot of back-and-forth games in the past few weeks. The Spartans may not have skated their best minutes on the ice, but the team showed resilience and determination until the end to survive and advance against a tough Western Michigan squad.

“Our group did a good job being even-keeled,” coach Adam Nightingale said. “All we are asking is your best effort every day and your best attitude and to be the best teammate. Enjoy it now and then tomorrow we get back to it.”

The Spartans came out with intensity in the first period. MSU saw some good looks, but the Bronco’s defense was doing a good job of getting their sticks in front of the crease and shutting down second-chance opportunities. A costly turnover in the defensive zone from Michigan State allowed Western Michigan to set up some offensive pressure, resulting in junior forward Matteo Costantini tipping in a shot from senior defenseman Daniel Hilsendager to open up the scoring.

Aleesa Luecker

Once Western Michigan had the lead, it dominated the ice to end the first and start the second. The Spartans were making bad turnovers, but freshman goaltender Trey Augustine played a huge role in holding the score at 1-0. The Spartans picked up some offensive momentum at the halfway mark of the period, but couldn’t quite finish their shots. On a breakaway chance, sophomore forward Daniel Russell used his speed to push past his defender and net the first goal of the night for the Spartans.

Michigan State began to click more offensively with the game tied, but still was only getting a quarter of the way there, unable to finish its chances. On a faceoff in the offensive zone, sophomore forward Issac Howard got the puck to David Gucciardi, who buried the puck in the back of the net to put the Spartans up 2-1.

However, the Broncos were never a team that would go down without a fight.

The first penalty of the night was whistled on freshman forward Gavin O’Connell and Western Michigan wasted no time on the power play. Sixteen seconds in, freshman forward Alex Bump found the back of the net, tying the game. Two minutes later, senior forward Sam Colangelo scored, suddenly shifting the scoreboard into a two-goal advantage for WMU.

“We (MSU) didn’t panic. We tried to play our game,” freshman defenseman Artyom Levshunov said. “We have to play a full game.”

The Broncos had been playing a full 60-minute game, whereas the Spartan’s chances were coming in small bursts. However, when you are a team like Michigan State, every small burst can have a drastic impact on the game. Almost halfway through the final 20 minutes, Western Michigan was all over Michigan State. They were playing a more physical, faster, and cleaner game. The Spartans had no forecheck and couldn’t find their way into the offensive zone. On one small burst the Spartans made it to the other end of the ice and senior defenseman Nash Nienhuis brought the Green and White back to life to make it a one-goal game.

“We train super hard and we know that paid off,” O’Connell said. “We know that we will ultimately come out with it and we have a ton of endurance and are ready for anything.”

Nienhuis’s goal was assisted by sophomore forward Tiernan Shoudy and junior forward Tanner Kelly. The linemates, along with freshman forward Tommi Männistö, have been playing well as the team’s physical line, focused on keeping the team’s energy and intensity up. Kelly, however, has been producing as of late, contributing points in all postseason games played so far for the Spartans. Michigan State’s depth once again played a large factor, with all players playing a part in the scoring and keeping them in the game.

“We’ve been fortunate to be one of the top-scoring teams in the country and we don’t have a guy in the top 70,” Nightingale said. “I thought we still had a lot of juice left in the tank.”

If every Spartan fan was on the edge of their seats in the final minutes, the team was a complete juxtaposition. Every player made smart moves and kept their composure, even with their season on the line. With a minute to go and Augustine pulled, Levshunov would go coast to coast and serve the puck up for Karsen Dorwart, who tied the game with 55 seconds on the clock to send the game to overtime.

Aleesa Luecker

“I think a big thing for our group all year has just been not panicking,” Dorwart said. “Everyone was calm. We knew we had what it took to get that goal.”

The Spartans now had two back-to-back weekends in overtime and this is where strength and conditioning coach Will Morlock’s training paid off. Michigan State was the faster, stronger team on the ice in overtime. Its determination and patience paid off, with Jeremy Davidson scoring against his hometown team to keep the Spartans season alive. Davidson’s goal was assisted by Nienhuis and Augustine, who got his first collegiate points to add to his season accolades.

Michigan State walked out with a win, but this team has a lot to work on as they head deeper into the tournament. There were struggles in forechecking and bad defensive turnovers. However, this Spartan team knows what they have to do if they want to keep their season going and inch closer to the Frozen Four. It is an emphasis, now more than ever, that this team has to play the full 60 minutes.

“We’ve been training super hard all year, just sticking to what we do best,” Kelly said. “Playing as a team and just finding whatever way it takes to win.”

Michigan claimed the victory in its game against North Dakota, so the Wolverines and the Spartans will meet for the sixth time this season with the highest stakes yet. The winning team will advance to the Frozen Four and the losing team will have their season ended by an in-state rival. The teams face off on Sunday, Mar. 31 at 6:30.

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