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Michigan State hockey set to host Notre Dame in critical series: 3 things to watch

Lansing State Journal logo Lansing State Journal 2/3/2023 Nathaniel Bott, Lansing State Journal
Michigan State's Cole Krygier, center, shown celebrating a goal with teammates against Michigan in December, will be one of nine seniors or graduate transfers who will take part in senior night festivities against Notre Dame on Saturday. © Nick King/Lansing State Journal Michigan State's Cole Krygier, center, shown celebrating a goal with teammates against Michigan in December, will be one of nine seniors or graduate transfers who will take part in senior night festivities against Notre Dame on Saturday.

The No. 17 Michigan State hockey team faces its most crititcal series to date with two games gainst No. 20 Notre Dame at Munn Arena this weekend.

The Spartans (13-13-2) are coming off a tough weekend, getting swept 6-0 and 6-3 on the road at No. 1 Minnesota.

"Tough weekend for us for sure, going out to Minnesota, best team in our league, one of the top teams in the country for a reason," MSU coach Adam Nightingale said. "Friday was a tough game, but I thought Saturday, I was proud of how we came out. I think it was the best we played them in the first 30-minute span. Our mindset is continue to improve. We've had a great week of practice and we are getting stronger."

MSU now sits just outside the projected NCAA Tournament field with a Pairwise ranking of 18. Notre Dame (13-12-3) has climbed up to 14 in the Pairwise following a home sweep of Wisconsin last weekend. A winning weekend for the Spartans would be a big boost in both the Pairwise and the Big Ten standings.

Here are three things to watch as MSU looks to get back on track against the Irish.

Revisiting the Irish

It's been a while since the Spartans faced the Notre Dame — more than three months since the two teams played a series at Compton Family Ice Arena in late October. The Fighting Irish won 5-0 the first night before MSU rebounded with a shootout win after a 1-1 tie the next day.

Notre Dame has won three of its last four, including a road split at then-No. 4 Penn State. The Irish are led in points by forward Ryder Rolston with 20 (seven goals, 13 assists), while forwards Trevor Janicke (eight goals, 10 assists) and Chayse Primeau (seven goals, 11 assists) are right behind at 18.

The biggest reason for Notre Dame's success is goaltender Ryan Bischel. His .928 save percentage leads the Big Ten and he allows just 2.48 goals against per game. His 31.39 saves per game also leads the conference.

Bischel and MSU goaltender Dylan St. Cyr played together at Notre Dame (from 2019-21) before St. Cyr transferred — first to Quinnipiac and then on to East Lansing.

"(Notre Dame) is a really well-coached team, I have a lot of respect for coach (Jeff) Jackson and his staff," Nightingale said. "They do things the right way and it'll be a really good test for us."

Notre Dame has had issues scoring all season, as its 2.46 goals per game are sixth in the Big Ten and 46th nationally. The Irish also rank last in the Big Ten with 29.36 shots per game.

One area MSU could look to capitalize on is with the man advantage. The Irish's penalty kill sits at 76.8 % – last in the Big Ten and 50th in the NCAA.

Big picture in the Big Ten

MSU sits in sixth in the Big Ten at 24 points, tied with Michigan. However, just three points separate sixth from second place, where Ohio State and PSU are tied at 27. Notre Dame sits in fourth at 26 points.

No one is catching the No.1-ranked Gophers, as Minnesota appears to be coasting to another Big Ten regular-season title with 43 points. The Spartans are also assured of not slipping further than sixth as Wisconsin sits in last place with nine points.

With three weekends of hockey remaining, MSU still has a chance to host a Big Ten tournament series for the first time in program history. The Spartans, who would need to finish in fourth place or higher to host a series, have never won a Big Ten tournament game.

Senior night

Despite it not being the final true home game for the Spartans this season, MSU will conduct its senior night ceremony following Saturday's game. MSU will host Michigan the following Feb. 10 in the final regular-season home game.

Nine MSU seniors or graduate transfers will be celebrated, with two players — forwards Jagger Joshua and Nico Muller — still with the option of having an additional year of eligibility to use.

"College is about growing and maturing and becoming a man, and I think that's something I've accomplished in my time here," Joshua said. "I think senior night and being able to spend time with my family, this is more than just my time here. It's my hockey career, and it's a chance for my family to be recognized for their hard work and sacrifice, too. It'll be a special night and I'm happy with who I've become."

The seniors who don't have eligibility remaining are St. Cyr, forward Erik Middendorf, transfer forward Justin Jallen, transfer forward Ryan Nolan, transfer defenseman Michael Underwood, defensemen twins Cole and Christian Krygier and MSU's captain in forward Miroslav Mucha.

Contact Nathaniel Bott at nbott@lsj.com and follow him on Twitter @Nathaniel_Bott

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: Michigan State hockey set to host Notre Dame in critical series: 3 things to watch

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