SOUTH BEND, IN – Michigan State’s hockey program took a big step forward Sunday night.
The Spartans won their first ever Big Ten championship series, scoring three unanswered goals and a 4-2 victory over Notre Dame in Game 3 of the best-of-3 series.
“It was great, and the guys did a good job. It’s only the second time in Big Ten history that a road team has won, so to come down again and come back and hang on, it was huge for our program,” MSU coach Adam Nightingale said. “Notre Dame is a high quality program, and I thought that was their best game in the series. We had a little bit of a bend and not a break, but that’s what this time of year is about, you have to find a way to win.”
MSU will now travel to face No. 1 ranked Minnesota next Saturday in a one-game semi-final for a spot in the Big Ten tournament final.
Notre Dame’s Justin Janik opened the scoring for Notre Dame on the power play just five minutes into the game. But MSU forward Nico Mueller responded later in the first period by jumping on the puck on a blocked shot and sending it over the glove of Notre Dame goaltender Ryan Pechell.
It was Mueller who pitted the Spartans’ lead in the second half, winning the tie in offensive zone and promptly sending the ball through the crease, where young forward Jeremy Davidson slammed the ball past a sprawling Beschel for a 2-1 lead.
“We were on the same page,” Mueller said, “and I was telling him in the time-out that I was going to do it.” “We didn’t plan it out before the game, but I was just feeling it and it worked.”
The NFL extended their lead to two goals after defenseman Nash Ninhis kicked a point off MSU’s Miroslav Mucha on his way into the net. The deflection sent Bischel out of position, and freshman striker Tiernan Shoudy quickly found the rebound and put it away.
Notre Dame’s Hunter Strand scored on the power play with 3:23 remaining to make it 3-2 and make the Notre Dame crowd rowdy as they have been in all series. But with the goalkeeper pulled, Müller gained possession in the defensive zone and volleyed the ball the full length of the ice, flying into an empty net to give USM a 4-2 lead.
“It was a great performance from the team and we were working for each other,” Mueller said. “It was a really fun game, and I think it means a lot to us. We worked really hard, and after getting the empty net, it felt really good.”
MSU goaltender Dylan St. Cyr made a number of great saves down the goalpost, most notably a blocked stretch pass on Notre Dame forward Grant Siljanov that would have cut the Irish deficit to just one goal with plenty of time left to find the tying goal.
St. Cyr, who played his first four collegiate seasons at Notre Dame, finished with 37 saves and posted back-to-back wins over his old team.
“I never would have thought that my best game (at Notre Dame) would be green and white, and it felt good to get that win with Michigan State,” St-Cyr said. “We knew we played well in the first game and some rebounds didn’t go our way, but we’re a process-driven team and we’ve stuck with it and they’ve been featured in the last two games.”
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Mueller, who had just six points last season, finished with two goals and an assist to give him a 34-point lead this season. Davidson has now scored in back-to-back matches, rewarding Shody, who had disrupted all series, with his sixth goal of the season.
MSU players all season called Nightingale’s practices harder than the actual games, and the conditioning and intensity of those practices certainly helped the Spartans land a three-game streak in three days.
“I made a hundred percent impact,” Nightingale said, “and I think that’s something you can control and your body is capable of more than you sometimes give credit to.” “Our university supports us in a great way and we are able to feed our guys well and get the treatment they need to stay healthy. It’s really exciting for the guys to see success when you train like that, it’s important.”
Related: Inside Adam and Kristen Nightingale’s wild ride to East Lansing for the Michigan State Hockey League
MSU went 0-4 against Minnesota this season but has a chance to rectify that next Saturday at 9 p.m. and boost its chances in the NCAA Tournament. It’s possible that the Spartans will still need some teams to snag their respective conference tournaments, however MSU jumped to #16 in the binary rankings. It looks like the top 15 teams will enter the NCAA tournament field, assuming all conference winners are teams within those 15. The Atlantic Hockey Conference does not have a team in the top 16, but will receive an automatic bid, taking one of the 16 spots on the field.
Contact Nathaniel Bott at [email protected]lsj.com and follow him on Twitter @Nathaniel_Bott
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