Michigan State hockey is on a six-game slide and it does not look great for the Spartans.
After starting the year with an impressive conference record and impressive overtime win over a USCHO top-20 Michigan Tech team in the Great Lakes Invitational showcase, MSU has fallen on hard times. To start the year, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio State all swept Michigan State.
The Spartans’ upcoming schedule isn’t looking so kind. MSU’s next series is against Minnesota on Feb. 4 and Feb. 5. The Golden Gophers swept the Spartans in East Lansing in early January. In the next week, MSU takes on in-state rival Michigan — currently ranked No. 4 — one of the matchups is a neutral-ice game at Little Caesars Arena. Then MSU gets Notre Dame and Penn State at home to close the season.
In fact, the only remaining Big Ten opponent that Michigan State faces in the bottom-half of the conference standings is Penn State, which has been giving every team a fit.
For Michigan State, this year may be a wash. Mitchell Lewandowski is still out and MSU doesn’t know when he’ll be back; Griffin Loughran could be out for an extended period; older players that MSU could rely cannot be counted on.
It’s hard to expect Michigan State to finish in the top-four of the Big Ten standings unless the Spartans get more than one sweep, something that has been hard to do. So making a 16-team NCAA Tournament feels impossible at this point.
Here are my takes for MSU on its bye week.
1. The young players have been carrying Michigan State
Freshman defenseman David Gucciardi has been impressive, especially in his last several games. While he hasn’t been a standout player every game, his skills show that he has some big potential.
Gucciardi has soft hands, can skate well, and is offensive-minded. These are talents NHL scouts are looking for in young players, and show that he could develop into being on an NHL team at some point moving forward.
This season, Gucciardi has four goals and six assists, including an overtime winner against Michigan Tech.
With MSU’s leading point-scorer, Lewandowski, being out with injury, freshman forward Jesse Tucker has been stepping up. Tucker contributes in big ways and he sits at No. 2 on the team in points, with 17. Of course, 16 of those points are assists.
Young players are going to be needed going forward as this team starts to lose its older group of guys.
2. Lewandowski’s absence shows a lack of depth
It’s hard to recount the last time a team has ever been so disjointed after the loss of one single player, but that’s how it feels with Michigan State hockey.
Sure, Lewandowski was Michigan State’s leading point-scorer, but the Spartans are 1-10 without him in the lineup. It’s hard to say if this can entirely be pinned on Lewandowski’s absence, but surely some of it is just that.
MSU looks thrown off and sloppy. In fact, its last game against Ohio State was the best (and most complete) game that the Spartans have played since the calendar turned over. Even though Michigan State lost, it was nice for momentum as MSU heads into Minnesota.
Even with Lewandowski out, Michigan State has been relying on its older players — such as junior forward Erik Middendorf or junior forward Josh Nodler. Cole and Christian Krygier will be gone after this season, as will senior defenseman Dennis Cesana.
If Michigan State wants to salvage its season, it starts with the younger players. A six-game slide doesn’t look good, especially after a COVID-ruined 2020 season. If things don’t turn around quickly, 2022 could be “put up or shut up” year for head coach Danton Cole and his staff.