The Michigan State Spartans sat just two victories away from an NCAA berth at 8:00 Saturday night. That berth might as well have been located at the other side of the Grand Canyon while the Spartans tried to jump towards it on a Huffy bike. The Michigan Wolverines throttled the Spartans in a 4-1 victory that would have been 12-1 with any goalie besides Jake Hildebrand in net for the Spartans. Now begins Hildebrand watch 2015 as the Spartans' chances for a successful season next year will rely on whether Hildebrand will forego his final year of college eligibility to pursue an opportunity in the pros. That is for another day, however, and today should be a celebration of how he was a one-man team tonight.
Michigan outshot the Spartans 24-8 in the first period and held a 1-0 lead, due to a power play goal scored off a net front deflection. The Spartans were lucky to still be in the game at that point and even were able to get the game tied up on a Matt Berry power play goal. That lasted just a few minutes before JT Compher rocketed the game winning goal on a 2-on-1 past the shoulder of Hildebrand. The third period began with an uninspiring power play opportunity for the Spartans and the inevitable came in the form of two late Michigan goals from perpetual Spartans killer Boo Nieves and Alex Kile. Both goals were nearly impossible for Hildebrand to stop and were excellent goals by Michigan.
Tomorrow night Michigan and Minnesota will play for the B1G championship in front of maybe 8,000 fans at Joe Louis Arena. These two teams are a world apart from the rest of the league and the gap won't close in East Lansing without some big progress. Tom Anastos talked about the progress made in Michigan State improving in puck possession compared to last season and I agree there was progress. However, Anastos knows this a program he was brought in to turn around and return to prominence. Pointing to shot blocking or penalty kill as the best part of your program will not lead to closing the gap in the B1G, the Spartans need a boost of offense and need it fast. This summer will be the biggest summer in Anastos' tenure as players like Mckenzie MacEachern, Thomas Ebbing, Ryan Keller, Joe Cox and Villiam Haag will have to make huge jumps in their play to end the NCAA drought.
Again though, those are conversations for the future. Today the Spartans saw the last game for Matt Berry, Brent Darnell, Ron Boyd, Zach Cisek and Tanner Sorenson. Berry, Sorenson and Darnell were the only three Spartans to ever play in an NCAA game and that means there will be none of that experience next year. The Spartans aren't losing a ton in the way of scoring from this class outside of Matt Berry which can lead to some optimism that there will be improvement from the 17-16-2 record from this season. Thanks to the seniors for all you have given to MSU hockey and hopefully this program will soon become something you can be proud of again.
It's sad to close the door on the 2014-15 hockey season tonight. I have exhausted myself to improve my writing and coverage of MSU hockey, all while returning to graduate school and knowing that these stories will never get comments or views compared to a football paragraph. It is a part of being a hockey writer, knowing your role and playing to a minority. I do this because I love Michigan State and most of all Michigan State hockey. I was a shy kid growing up, an only child and the oldest of 17 grand kids for my grand parents. Michigan State hockey was what brought me and my grandfather, together. I often felt like my cousins got more time with him, fairly or unfairly, but MSU hockey was our thing.
I am not using a phrase when I say that I grew up at Munn Arena. I went to games in the womb and attended at least 15-20 games every season until I was 18. I sat in section G my entire young life, right next to the visiting tunnel. I have collected pucks for years, given to me by referees leaving the ice. I have been treated like a little brother by past players Bryan Adams, Mike Weaver and Jon Insana. I was at Crunchy's in April 2007, a senior in high school on his way to Grand Valley in the fall, as Bryan Lerg and his teammates brought the NCAA trophy in for a private party.
I'll close with one last story. As some of you may know I got engaged to my fiance this past Father's Day. I have turned her from an NFL only girl to a huge Spartans fan, (beyond just wearing MSU clothes from the Pink Victoria's Secret line) and a hockey and LA Kings fanatic. When we were early in dating she took me to her childhood home, located on a Boy Scout reservation in Whitehall, MI. She told me how it was the happiest spot on earth for her and inquired where mine was. Without missing a beat I told her, "Munn Arena" for all of the reasons I mentioned above.
I have taken her to a few games at Munn Arena since then and she has been a real trooper allowing me to spend our precious free time writing here at TOC. My goal this summer is to get her on the ice at Munn, in her skates that I bought her, for the first time. Hopefully, when we go to games next season, there will be an MSU team that can give her the same feelings I had growing up. Thank you to those of you who have read this far and who have taken any time to read all season. I'll close the same way I did last season and the way the Michigan State hockey banquet always closed under Ron Mason, with a little Frank Sinatra.
I will be back in October (Assuming Joe Tuohey allows me back). It will be my 26th year of Spartans hockey fandom and I hope you all come along with me. It's just 7 months until next season, Let's Go Green.