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MSU Starts Strong, Can’t Finish. Let’s Talk Hockey.

An emphatic 2-0 lead not enough for MSU to overcome Michigan in the final showdown at Joe Louis Arena. Also, let’s talk about the future of Big Ten hockey!

Big Chill - Michigan State v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Last night was a huge opportunity for MSU to come out and give Spartan fans everywhere some good news. A 2-0 lead should have played in to exactly the type of game MSU should close out. This team seems to be built on playing with the lead. Instead, Michigan would go on to dominate the final 50 minutes of play. After taking the 2-0 lead, State would be outscored 4-2 after taking that lead. I hate to be the guy to pin a loss on goaltending. But MSU could not find a save when they needed it. When Michigan needed a goal, they got it. And to be fair, MSU responded when it mattered most, except for the shootout.

The first shift for the Hirose-Appleton-Cox line was a statement shift. This shift, in theory, should have set the tone for the game. With a Hirose goal less than a minute into the game, MSU was in good shape. When the lead was extended to two just a few minutes later, the Spartans should have been in position to run away with the game. All credit goes to Michigan for their strong response that left the first period all tied up at two after twenty minutes.

MSU would reclaim the lead in the second period thanks to a goal from Chris Knudson. It was his second goal of the season and his second against the Wolverines. Michigan would tie it back up at three on the power play with just a few minutes to go in the middle frame.

The third period would start with another Michigan goal just 2:40 in to the period. Nolan De Jong found his second of the night giving Michigan a 4-3 lead. The way the third period went, it looked like Michigan would sneak out of Joe Louis Arena with a 4-3 win. But Sam Saliba had other plans when he found the twine for the second time to tie the game up with only a few minutes remaining in the third. Regulation would end at a 4-4 deadlock as would overtime.

The shootout was a string of missed opportunities for the Spartans. Khodorenko had a phenomenal opportunity to win the game but just missed when he could not make the final touch on a great move. Michigan would go on to win in the shootout.

This was another game where MSU failed to play a complete game. There is no reason that a 2-0 first-period lead should be erased before the break. Especially against a Michigan team that is not all that great. It is exceptionally aggravating to watch a team come out so strong only to play so average the rest of the game. The first five minutes were some of the best hockey State has played all year. With the right coaching, these players are more than capable of winning these games. This team deserves so much better.

This game really hurts. State had a great opportunity to run away with this game and just did not. A 2-0 lead should have been enough to beat an underachieving Michigan team. However, this win is further proof that Michigan is better than their record lets on. Michigan is playing at a higher level recently and MSU is not. Plain and simple. I would be really excited to see State come out tomorrow and salvage another lost weekend. But wouldn’t we all?

Around the conference

Ohio State beat Minnesota 5-4, stopping the Gophers’ recent run of momentum.

Penn State beat Wisconsin 6-3 on the road. This could do wonders for a Penn State team desperate for something after their recent losing streak.

Notre Dame beat Maine 3-2 on the road. Good job.

Around the country

Umass Lowell beat BU. Boston will next play Harvard in the Beanpot tournament final on Monday.

BC lost 6-3 in a head-scratcher to Merrimack. They play Northeastern in the consolation game of the Beanpot on Monday. I think that BU and BC will get back on track on Monday night. Both games should be a ton of fun.

Providence took down Uconn at home. Providence is still looking great heading down the final stretch of the season.

Air Force shut out American International 5-0 and if they do not climb in the rankings I will be upset.

(4) Harvard beat (6) Union 6-2 and the Harvard-BU game next week is going to be so much fun.

Western Michigan outlasted Omaha with a 7-6 score. They are currently a top-ten team and probably need a sweep to stay in the top ten. They’ll probably make the tournament anyways.

Miami University fell to St. Cloud State on the road and it might be time to wonder if Enrico Blasi’s job is safe in Oxford. Miami has hit a rut the last few seasons and needs to reevaluate program expectations as well as their head coach.

Ferris State beat Michigan Tech 3-2.

Northern earned a home shutout of Alaska, 3-0.

Bemidji State won the MacNaughton Cup for the first time, clinching the WCHA after a 3-2 win over Alabama Hunstville.

The Beanpot will finish up on Monday night when Boston University plays Harvard. Boston College will Play Northeastern in the consolation game. I think both games will be a ton of fun and definitely worth the viewing time. In fact, they might be more fun than some of the professional games on that night. My personal pick is that BU will beat Harvard handily. BC should handle Northeastern, who was feisty against Harvard and damn near pulled off the win. BC-Northeastern might even be more fun than the BU-Harvard game.

Finally, Air Force might be for real this year. Don’t be surprised if Providence is in the Frozen Four. My personal picks for Frozen Four (which will change when the bracket comes out) Boston University, Minnesota, Denver and Minnesota-Duluth. For what it’s worth, I think BU is the best team in the country and that they will win the national title regardless of who they run into. Be careful, though, Providence is getting hot at the right time and could be the perfect Cinderella this year.

Big question

With Notre Dame joining Big Ten hockey starting next year, why not more teams? Notre Dame would make seven Big Ten teams. I would be a fan of adding more teams, even as associate members. For example, additions such as Western Michigan, Miami University and Bowling Green would be solid fits in the Big Ten as associate members for hockey. Western and Miami bring a good competitive balance and Bowling Green is a good regional fit. Bowling Green is my third associate addition because it would bring the Big Ten to an even ten teams.

I also believe that in the next 10-15 years the Big Ten should pressure certain member schools into adding hockey as a D-1 sport. Given the growth of hockey talent in the US, I could see Northwestern and Illinois being players in the Big Ten. Hockey is growing in the US and given the prestige of the universities in the Big Ten, the conference could become a force in college hockey.

What I am basically asking is two questions. Should the Big Ten seek to extend associate membership to regional hockey powers? Should the Big Ten push for current members without D-1 programs to move in that direction given the success of Penn State and Arizona State?