April 14, 2024

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MSU's exciting NCAA Hockey Tournament win marks the latest milestone in the Renaissance era

MSU's exciting NCAA Hockey Tournament win marks the latest milestone in the Renaissance era

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. – Among the many talents that have allowed the Michigan State hockey team to achieve all it has this season: These guys don't panic.

Not even when they should.

On Friday night, they faced a two-goal deficit in the third period and then still trailed by a goal with a minute to go, their season on the line, and they kept the pressure on.

“Just sticking with it, like we do all year,” said MSU forward Jeremy Davidson, who scored the game-winning goal 11 minutes into overtime.

very easy.

Just not so.

Most teams don't do this. Most teams will return home on Saturday instead of preparing to play in the NCAA Tournament regional final on Sunday night.

The Spartans' 5-4 overtime win over Western Michigan on Friday night in suburban St. Louis was the latest accomplishment in a season that has truly been the kind of Renaissance that MSU fans have dreamed of for more than a decade — winning and a stellar talent track. Balance. Advance in the NCAA Tournament.

Related: Michigan State Hockey Marches, wins overtime thriller over Western Michigan in the first round of the NCAA Tournament

The last time MSU won an NCAA Tournament game, 16 years ago, their current coach was a construction worker and their star defenseman and goalie — both touted NHL prospects — were young kids.

It's probably best that Spartan fans don't know how long the wait will be – although this team is doing everything they can to make it worth it.

They will play Michigan for the sixth time this season on Sunday. MSU's journey against the Wolverines this season — four wins, one improbable comeback, a tense overtime thriller in the Big Ten Championship a week ago, and one humiliating, jarring home defeat in January — has played a big role in the Spartans' path to becoming a team that doesn't sweat it or overplay it. In his reaction or surrender.

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Related: Michigan hockey's fierce finish defeats North Dakota in its NCAA opener. Clash with MSU next.

Friday night, we saw that calm determination down to the wire — embodied by MSU's freshman defenseman, Artyom Levshunov, charging down the right side of the ice past three defenders paying close attention to him, before finding teammate Karsen Durwart wide open in front of The net scored the equalizer with 55.8 seconds left in the game.

“I tried to do something,” Levshunov explained.

This assistance would qualify as something. That was a legacy play for a soon-to-be NHL top-five pick, more so than anything he's had up to this point in an exciting rookie season.

“Good players find a way to step up when the game is on the line,” MSU coach Adam Nightingale said. “And he certainly did.”

MSU's late-game appeal — also seen this season against Minnesota and Michigan and in the Big Ten's regular-season win at Wisconsin — is largely a combination of efficiency, confidence and conditioning.

There was no exhale when they went to the locker room after sending the game into overtime. Likewise, the same calmness they had when they were behind remained.

“It helps that we had the exact same score in the OT game last week,” said sophomore Tiernan Shodi. “Everyone says, 'Hey, the job's not done.' We still have to get out there and finish it. We knew we had legs and they were kind of falling off a little bit. “It just goes back to that training that (strength and conditioning coach) Will Morlock helped us get through the whole summer and into last year.”

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Find me a game where MSU finishes strong this season and I'll show you a player who can credit Morlock.

Morlock business is the long game. On the bench, with just over six minutes left in the game and MSU trailing by a goal, the coaching staff was preparing the Spartans for the end in real time.

When MSU challenged the no-call on the ice, hoping to get a major five-minute penalty against WMU, they knew that if the challenge failed, they would lose the timeout. The break during review will be the last time they have a few moments to direct their players. So, assistant coach Mike Towns discussed MSU's plan to play six-on-five, in case they needed to pull their goaltender late.

Sure enough, Dorwart's goal, with an assist from Levshunov, came six-on-five, one minute after MSU pulled goaltender Trey Augustine.

No detail was left unsaid.

They trust this staff. They trust their own abilities. They trust that something good will happen. Because they have now seen it happen many times. And again Friday.

This was a huge win for the program. As big as the win at Wisconsin for the Big Ten Championship or last week's win over Michigan for the Big Ten Championship title.

The MSU team was supposed to take the next step for this program once it reached the NCAA Tournament. Instead, the Spartans have taken several next steps this season. That now includes winning an NCAA tournament game, in exhilarating fashion, no less.

“It's obviously unrealistic,” said Shodi. “You want to get the next one, but that's kind of a monkey from behind, you know?”

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All that's left for this team and revitalized program is to get to the Frozen Four and swing by there.

“Going back three years, I didn’t think we would be here,” Davidson said.

Whatever happens on Sunday, I'm sure of this: they won't panic.

Contact Graham Couch at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.