Michigan State hockey falls to Michigan 5-2 in regional final

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Aleesa Luecker

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, MO — The sound of the horn echoing three different times in five minutes was the sound that ended Michigan State hockey’s season in devastating fashion. The Michigan Wolverines found their revenge on the season and moved on to its third consecutive Frozen Four after defeating Michigan State 5-2 in the regional finals in St. Louis.

Despite the score, the Spartans played a full 60 minutes, fighting until the end. The game was tied at 2-2 until the last half of the third period, where Michigan found opportunities to capitalize, while graduate goaltender Jake Barcweski shut down the Spartans.

“You win with class and you lose with class and I thought our guys finished the game,” coach Adam Nightingale said. “That’s important to what we are trying to do. I still think we are laying a foundation.”

The most played rivalry in college hockey in the NCAA tournament setting had no shortage of action. After both teams had come-from-behind victories in the first round of the tournament, they faced off for the sixth time this season. Each time these two teams met this season, there was more at stake. Michigan State led the season series 4-1 before this matchup, took home the Iron D trophy, and the Big Ten title. However, in the team’s first meeting in the NCAA tournament, Michigan took the glory while Michigan State had its season ended at the hands of its rivals. While fresh off defeat, the team still recognized the incredible run this season has been.

“We’ve (MSU) made massive strides and I think this is only the beginning,” junior forward Red Savage said. “It’s easy to get emotional losing today, but you take a step back and we accomplished a lot this year. Definitely an emotional loss, but one that we are going to learn lessons from.”

It was never news that these two teams didn’t like each other. With the stakes higher than ever, both teams came out as fast as they could, trying to match the intensity. A mere five minutes in, sophomore forward Gavin Brindley was whistled for hooking, setting up the red-hot Spartans with a chance on the man advantage. This MSU squad has found a lot of success in its power-play setup, so when sophomore defenseman Matt Basgall fired a shot from the blue line, freshman forward Gavin O’Connell was there to tip it in for his sixth power-play goal of the season.

Aleesa Luecker

The chippiness continued with freshman defenseman Maxim Štrbák and sophomore forward Kienan Draper each getting a roughing call. Seconds later, Nienhuis followed suit, getting called for elbowing. Freshman goaltender Trey Augustine stood his ground against the best power play in the nation, not allowing any pucks past him in five of the six Michigan power plays. Augustine played a key role in the Spartan’s penalty kill all night, making big saves against an intense Wolverine power play unit. Augustine, always a team player, credited his defenseman for working with him and stopping Michigan rushes.

“The guys were helping me out in front and doing their job,” Augustine said. “We’ve got a lot to touch upon, but we’ve got a good team here and we’ll be back next year.”

The Spartans spent quite a bit of time on the penalty kill in the second and succeeded in shutting down the Wolverines. On a rush into the offensive zone halfway through the second, TJ Hughes found Ethan Edwards in the slot, tying it up at one apiece. The Wolverines gained momentum after Edwards’ goal, but after another penalty kill and a chance on the power play, Michigan State found its groove again. After some back-and-forth play in the last 10 minutes of the period, the shot count was even at 22 a piece, but freshman defender Artyom Levshunov took a roughing penalty at the end of the second, giving the Wolverines another opportunity on the power play. The Wolverines can only be held off so long when given opportunities on the man advantage.

Aleesa Luecker

The Spartans got their fifth penalty kill to start the period on a high note, but six minutes in, Marshall Warren got the puck in front of Augustine and broke the tie. The ice began to tilt more in favor of the Wolverines, but a big hit on Tiernan Shoudy sent Michigans’ Philippe LaPointe to the box for boarding. The Spartans wasted no time on the power play, as Nico Müller fed a clean pass to Joey Larson in the slot to tie the game back up. Larson broke his 13-game scoring drought and marked his first goal since Jan. 20, conveniently against Michigan.

However, the game did not stay tied for long, as senior forward Dylan Duke took the puck himself and slid it past Augustine. Just 12 seconds later, Gavin Brindley made it 4-2 as time expired. Things looked down for Michigan State and got worse. Spartans had a tilt, but Müller was called for slashing, leading Duke to score nine seconds into the power play and finally stop the dominant Spartan penalty kill

“We didn’t give up and we tried to play to the end,” Levshunov said. “It was a good experience and a good lesson for us.”

After a historic season ended in heartbreak, the team was overcome with emotion, but recognized the success of the season they had — and in true Spartan hockey fashion — were ready to get back to work. While the sting from the loss will linger, MSU knows what they did this season as a program and will build off the lessons learned.

“It definitely sucks to be knocked out and have to stop,” sophomore forward Issac Howard said. “I think next year we can learn from this, remember this feeling, and make a deeper push.”

Michigan heads to the Frozen Four for the third consecutive year, while the Spartans head back to East Lansing. A historic season ended by the rival Wolverines. Michigan State and its fanbase feel the sting of the loss, but Nightingale knows what this team did to help keep hockey culture alive in East Lansing and is glad to know his team carried on traditions built and can put their heads down and keep working.

“We play team hockey, we play hard and I think we represent Michigan State the right way,” Nightingale said. “I’m proud of our guys for building some excitement in our community. It wasn’t a given.”