PREVIEW: After a memorable Big Ten championship, Michigan State hockey sets its sights on the NCAA Tournament, its first trip in 12 years

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Emily Martin

36 hours.

That is roughly the time Michigan State hockey had to celebrate its first Big Ten championship title. Memories of the crowd, the cheers, and the joy will remain with the team, but it will get shelved for the time being. Now, the team sets its sights on the NCAA tournament as they prepare to travel to Maryland Heights, MO, to face off against formal CCHA rival, the Western Michigan Broncos.

This is the Spartan’s 28th trip to the NCAA tournament and the first since 2012. This is also the team’s seventh trip to the tournament as the No. 1 regional seed.

“It was a special weekend for our program,” head coach Adam Nightingale said. “Now it’s time to move on and we’ve earned an opportunity to play in the tournament and play a really good opponent in Western Michigan.”

Saturday’s victory locked in the Spartans as the No.1 seed. There will be some other familiar faces in Maryland Heights, with North Dakota and Michigan meeting as the other matchup in the region. All four of these teams are ranked in the top ten of scoring offenses in the nation, each of them scoring above 3.5 goals per game.

To add drama to the elite matchups in the region, there is a possibility of a sixth matchup this season between the Spartans and Wolverines. Every time these teams meet, more seems to be on the line. As for Michigan State, taking the tournament one game at a time is pivotal for success.

“It’s kind of hard to look ahead,” sophomore forward Tiernan Shoudy said. “Western is a really good team. We can’t really look past those guys.”

Michigan State has had something on the line in its last three series and has seen the tournament-style atmosphere before, but now it is win-or-go-home. Each team will bring its best, which MSU can handle, but all bets are off in tournament settings. Nightingale thinks the best example this team has seen of the NCAA tournament came from the GLI championship game against Michigan Tech, where the team played its best 60 minutes, still falling in the end.

“That’s the reality of a one-game shot,” Nightingale said. “We got to just focus on things we can control and we have some good reference points to look back on. When we don’t play how we need to play, it could be dangerous.”

The Broncos are a team filled with veterans, boasting 19 upper-classmen and 10 under-classmen, whereas the Spartans field a much younger roster and are still growing. Graduate forward Reed Lebster is the only player who has played in the NCAA tournament, winning the championship with UMass in 2021.

One of those young Spartan players everyone will have their eyes on is freshman goaltender Trey Augustine. In just one year in college hockey, Augustine has stacked accolades for himself, with an IIHF World Juniors gold medal, Big Ten regular season title, and now the Big Ten championship title. The pressure may skyrocket on the 19-year-old between the pipes, but Augustine had the maturity of a tenured veteran with his poise in tough situations.

“For me, it’s all about just focusing on the next play,” Augustine said. “What’s in the past already happened and I can’t change that anymore. I just kind of focus on the next opportunity I have to make a positive impact on the game.”

The Broncos made program history with this bid, marking their third consecutive appearance in the tournament. Head coach Pat Ferschweiler has not missed the tournament since taking the helm in the 2020-21 season. Ferschweiler has brought a lot to the Western Michigan program, much like Nightingale, but that is not where the two coaches’ connections end. The two worked together with the Red Wings franchise, Ferschweiler as an assistant coach, and Nightingale as a video coach, and the two have stayed connected since. When coming to Michigan State, Nightingale discussed the advice he received from Ferschweiler on building a staff and rebuilding a program.

“He kind of took me under his wing and helped me grow as a coach,” Nightingale said. “He’s always a phone call away.”

Michigan State and Western Michigan will face off at Centene Community Ice Center at 5 pm. The winner will face off against the winner of the North Dakota vs Michigan matchup on Sunday evening.

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