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Series Preview: MSU Hockey Looks for a Late Season Jolt Against Notre Dame

An NCAA Tournament bid may hang in the balance as the regular season finish line approaches

COLLEGE HOCKEY: OCT 29 Michigan State at Notre Dame Photo by Joseph Weiser/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After some dark days at Munn Ice Arena, happy days, or at least interesting days, are here again in year one of the Adam Nightingale era. The Spartans enter this weekend’s two game series against Notre Dame at 13-13-2, sitting just outside of the NCAA Tournament picture at #18 in the pairwise rankings, setting up a crucial series against the Irish. Notre Dame is fourth in the Big Ten standings, just two points ahead of MSU. A sweep would do wonders for MSU’s tournament chances leading into next week’s series against Michigan.

Five of the Big Ten’s seven teams are clumped in between Minnesota and Wisconsin in the standings. The Gophers are far and away the best team in the league, with a talented roster full of NHL talent and are coming off of a dominant sweep of MSU with a combined score of 14-3. Wisconsin is solidly in the league’s basement, at 3-13-0. Everyone else is still playing for second place in what has turned out to be a strong league that should have a solid presence in the NCAA Tournament.

MSU’s season started strong, piling up wins before the holidays over Big Ten and non conference opponents. In the GLI, moved to Grand Rapids this season, the Spartans lost a pair of tight games to Ferris State and Michigan Tech. That skid continued into Big Ten play, as the Spartans were swept by Ohio State and Minnesota on the road and played two overtime games against Penn State.

That leads us to this weekend against Notre Dame. When these two teams first faced off in the fall, they split the two game set in South Bend, with a lopsided Notre Dame win on Friday night followed by an overtime game, and a Spartans shootout win the next night. Notre Dame is coached by Jeff Jackson, the MSU grad who has coached the Irish for 18 years.

MSU and Notre Dame feature two of the better goaltenders in the Big Ten, with Dylan St Cyr and Ryan Bischel facing off. St Cyr came to MSU originally from Notre Dame, by way of Quinnipiac, and has used his final year of eligibility to help stabilize a position that MSU needed with Drew DeRidder’s transfer to North Dakota. Notre Dame’s Ryder Rolston leads their team in points, and played well against MSU in October, and slowing him down will give the Spartans a better shot to climb the standings.

Adding a layer to the already high stakes, MSU is celebrating its senior class on Saturday night, as the home finale will be next Friday against Michigan. A potential Covid year of eligibility means that Jagger Joshua, Nico Muller, and Erik Middendorf may not be playing their last season in East Lansing, but it is the end of the road for Miroslav Mucha, Dylan St Cyr, Justin Jallen, Ryan Nolan, Cole Krygier, Christian Krygier, and Michael Underwood. This is a really likable group, and the sellout Munn crowd will be more than happy to give them the sendoff they deserve for bringing the program back from the bottom of the Big Ten to playing important hockey in February.

Counting this weekend, there are three series left in the regular season. Every point will matter, and if the Spartans can come out of the weekend ahead in points, that sets the stage for a massive series against Michigan next week. For the first time in a long time, there are important games being played at Munn in February. If things go well, the Spartans could play many more important hockey games before we close the book on this season.