Detroit Free Press

Despite its loss to U-M, MSU hockey is elite again

Painful defeat won’t erase Spartans’ terrific season

- Contact Graham Couch at Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch. — Wire reports

MARYLAND HEIGHTS, Mo. – In the moment, it would have been so much better for Michigan State’s hockey team had the opponent been anyone else.

It would have stung a little less. Differentl­y, at least. The pain not so visceral, layered with the sense that beating a team four times in a season — your rival especially — ought to be enough not to have them end your season.

Perhaps MSU’s 5-2 loss to Michigan on Sunday night in an NCAA tournament regional final in suburban St. Louis is as good a time as any for folks to realize that, in the years ahead, this rivalry in hockey is unlikely to have definitive winners and losers. Just games, followed by more games. Joy and heartbreak. But nothing to really brag about. MSU will win its share — the Spartans won two Big Ten titles this season in large part because of their success against Michigan. The Wolverines will win plenty, too — they’re headed to the Frozen Four again in part because they put together 12 dazzling seconds in the third period Sunday, 12 seconds when the Spartans weren’t at their best.

MSU’s players would trade any of their victories against Michigan for this one — even last week’s Big Ten tournament championsh­ip game thriller at Munn Ice Arena.

“Definitely,” MSU sophomore center Tierman Shoudy said, dejectedly sitting at his locker Sunday night.

While seeing your rival celebrate at your expense only intensifie­s the ache, the hurt the Spartans felt in that locker room was more from knowing that it’s over and that they fell short of something they were good enough to achieve, it turned out.

The story of this MSU hockey season is not how it ended. It’s what’s been started.

And it’s about what was accomplish­ed — just two years after the Spartans finished their season with an 8-0 loss to Michigan four weeks earlier than this, the tail end of a miserable 15game losing streak that led to a coaching change.

Sure, losing Sunday left some meat on the bone, fuel for the offseason, for next season, where the randomness of the sport — exacerbate­d by a single-eliminatio­n NCAA tournament — may or may not break MSU’s hearts again.

But this team didn’t leave many firsts for their successors:

Big Ten champions. Check.

Big Ten tournament champions. Check again.

No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. That too.

An NCAA tournament win. Done.

This particular group will forever be cherished for how they played, how much they won and for how they made people feel again. For young fans, it was a feeling they’d never known.

Amid the Spartans’ grief Sunday, it was also a time to finally reflect — to get away from the talk of process and bask a little in the results.

“I didn’t do a good job of recognizin­g that during the year,” MSU coach Adam Nightingal­e said. “It’s always more on to the next (thing). Now that the season is done, (there’s) some time to reflect. Just talking to the guys after, I think it’s pretty arrogant to think I have the words to help them feel better. This one hurts for sure.

“But I do think (when) you step back … we were in first place (in the Big Ten) wire to wire. And that’s not easy to do in our conference, with the youngest (team). We’ve got 18 guys, freshmen or sophomores, who will be back. And you think about that.”

That thought is as much fun for folks to chew on as the season that was. Because this does not look anything like a one-off. This team had as many young stars as older ones. This, it appears, is only the beginning.

The beginning of a resurgence, I should say. Not the beginning of anything that hasn’t been done in earlier decades. Nightingal­e’s reflection and appreciati­on for what’s transpirin­g went deeper Sunday than the present, giving a nod to the late Ron Mason. Nightingal­e’s second team stirred something in the fan base. But it was there to be stirred.

“We just needed to get up and put a product on the ice that people were excited about,” Nightingal­e said. “That’s a testament to our guys. Because I think they do it the right way, not just the games, but we see them do it in practice, we see it in the weight room, the classroom … the community. I think that’s really important, especially in a world where it’s really confusing for players right now, where it’s about me and what do I get? And (here) it’s not about you, it’s about the team.

“We’ve got a lot of momentum. But we’re not there yet.”

There’s another level to reach, no question. But they were good enough to win it all this year. And they realized it at some point deep in the season, senior Nico Muller said.

“It was always the goal,” Muller said. “It just became more and more real. It’s just a shame that we came up short now. They’ll get there, 100% (they will) with the guys in here.”

If a puck or two had bounced differentl­y Sunday, if they’d avoided a couple mistakes — or maybe if they weren’t trying to beat an ubertalent­ed team for the fifth time in one season — they might already be there.

“As much as it stings now, you’ve just got to try and look to the future and use this all summer to motivate you,” sophomore forward Karsen Dorwart, “hope you can get back.”

Minnesota Wild forward Ryan Hartman was suspended for three games for throwing his stick toward officials after Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss to the visiting Vegas Golden Knights.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety revealed the ruling Monday after a phone hearing with Hartman to discuss his unsportsma­nlike conduct.

Hartman, 29, apparently was upset that Vegas defenseman Noah Hanifin was not penalized for high-sticking him late in the third period.

After Golden Knights forward Jonathan Marchessau­lt’s game-ending empty-net goal in OT, Hartman tossed his stick in the officials’ direction. He received a 10-minute game misconduct penalty for using abusive language.

The official said Hartman’s status as a repeat offender was taken into account. Hartman previously has been fined seven times and suspended three times in his 10-year career, including a two-game ban for tripping in November.

Now he will miss Minnesota’s three home games this week against the Ottawa Senators, Colorado Avalanche and Winnipeg Jets as the Wild battle for a wild-card spot. The league said he will forfeit $62,195.13 based on his average salary, with the money going to the Players’ Emergency Assistance Fund.

Hartman has 42 points (19 goals, 23 assists) and 72 penalty minutes in 68 games this season. He has 275 points (126 goals, 149 assists) and 577 PIM in 574 career games with four teams.

 ?? Graham Couch
Lansing State Journal
Graham Couch Columnist Lansing State Journal USA TODAY NETWORK – MICH.
 ?? MICHAEL CAPLES/MSU ATHLETIC COMMUNICAT­IONS ?? MSU freshman defenseman Artyom Levshunov, shown in Sunday’s 5-2 regional final loss to Michigan, is expected to be a top-five NHL draft pick, but could be back with the Spartans next season.
MICHAEL CAPLES/MSU ATHLETIC COMMUNICAT­IONS MSU freshman defenseman Artyom Levshunov, shown in Sunday’s 5-2 regional final loss to Michigan, is expected to be a top-five NHL draft pick, but could be back with the Spartans next season.

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