So: MSU traveled down to Ann Arbor on Saturday to participate in the largest, and certainly one of the most hyped, events in the history of college hockey. And very few Michigan State fans followed the hockey team down 96 and 23 because nearly anyone who paid the slightest bit of attention to the fortunes of the two programs involved had a pretty good idea how this one was going to turn out. To wit: not very well for the men in Green.
And so it went: MSU was crushed 5-0 in front of 113,000 fans who at once reveled in the grandeur of the event and cursed the fact that only one of the teams truly belonged on such a stage. Contrast this with the last time these two teams played in an event of this magnitude: the 2001 Cold War was played at an extremely high level by two star-laden teams at the top of the national rankings. (MSU featured future NHL stars Ryan Miller, Jim Slater, Duncan Keith and John-Michael Liles, among others.) This year's Spartan team, by contrast, languishes at the foot of the CCHA standings and has already been swept by Western Michigan this season.
I did not watch the game on Saturday; it was televised on FSD and I no longer live in Michigan. Had it gone better than expected I would have downloaded a torrent yesterday. This is obviously not a decision I regret. Consequently, I have nothing to add in terms of what actually transpired on Saturday other than it almost certainly was the low point in the entire history of Michigan State hockey. MSU stands on the precipice of their second losing season in three years and is a virtual lock to miss the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive year. The spectacular faceplant in Ann Arbor is merely the most visible and most embarrassing symptom of a program in swift decline since a 2007 national championship that was fantastically sweet but at this point cannot be regarded as anything other than a monumental fluke.
With that in mind, I'm doing something we've never done before at TOC: calling for the replacement of a MSU head coach. Rick Comley inherited from Ron Mason one of the finest collegiate hockey programs and, in his seven-plus years as head coach, he has already missed the NCAA Tournament three times, with the fourth miss on the way. More than 1/4th of all Division One hockey teams make the tournament every season. It's hard to say this without sounding like a sports talk radio caller, but failing to make the tournament half the time at a school with the tradition and resources of Michigan State is, standing alone, a fireable offense.
But there's so much more: under Comley, MSU has won no regular season CCHA titles, and only one CCHA Tournament title. We have clearly been surpassed by Miami and Notre Dame in the conference pecking order, and can be considered, at best, a member of the CCHA's second-tier. MSU's 17-season sellout streak ended under Comley's watch, and the Munn Ice Arena--long an embarrassingly quiet venue--has become even less intimidating in recent seasons. Fans--and more importantly, students--simply don't have patience for losing teams playing boring hockey, particularly with good basketball being played across the street.
The recruiting has been poor, and Comley has struggled to bring in players to fit the type of forecheck-intensive game he prefers. And the situation is poised to become even worse once a Big Ten hockey conference begins play, as MSU will be playing and recruiting against Minnesota and Wisconsin in addition to more traditional foes. The list of horribles could go on and on, and this is all notwithstanding the attack on Steve Kampfer two seasons ago, which was, I think, handled relatively well by the coaching staff but is nonetheless a continuing black mark on the program.
In short, it's time for Comley to go. The national championship season was marvelous, but stands as a clear outlier in relation to the rest of Comley's body of work in East Lansing. There is the little matter that Comley is under contract until 2014, thanks to a series of ever-more-inexplicable extensions awarded by Mark Hollis. No matter. MSU hockey is at the lowest point in recent program history, and it's hard seeing how anything will improve substantially with Comley at the helm. A new face is needed to restore the program to its former standing and ensure that Saturday's fiasco doesn't become a recurring embarrassment.