Spartan Hockey Swept at Home and From NCAA Contention by Michigan

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Munn Ice Arena

East Lansing, MI

 

Tonight was supposed to be magical. This was going to be a perfect culmination after a rebound season and an abysmal campaign in 2009. The Spartans were going to eliminate their arch nemesis the Michigan Wolverines this weekend in the playoffs and keep skating towards an NCAA birth. It never happened.

 

The Spartans had a good enough season to get a bye for their efforts last weekend, but the Spartans saw that reward as a curse. Left winger Andrew said afterward, “What really hurt us was the weekend off,” and his head coach Rick Comley echoed the same sentiments when he likened the reward of a bye to not being fair. There was no mention of the fact Michigan lost their goaltender to injury having to play, just thoughts that sounded like excuses.

 

Excuses aside, this loss was devastating on multiple fronts and it really hurt not only the coaches and players, but more importantly the program. Here is how:

 

1)     The Spartans had nearly 6,000 empty seats over a two game PLAYOFF series with their archrival.

2)     The Spartans were the heavy favorites, ranked number ten nationally.

3)     If not for the multitude of Michigan fans, this place would have been even emptier and cost an athletic program even more money putting them even farther in the red with fans staying away.

 

There were murmurs about how this program was hurt because of spring break, but those are only excuses. Students wouldn’t have purchased 6,000 seats. One MSU official told my cameraman and I, “I was embarrassed last night (Friday) with how quiet this place was. The UM chants were so loud.” Another commented that, “This is like the Ohio State game in John L. Smith’s last season when they filled our stadium and drowned out our fans with that stupid O-H-I-O cheers.”

 

Coach Comley explained the poor crowds on Friday with, “People like basketball” and he is right, but the empty seats still make life difficult on the AD Mark Hollis and a program once feared nationally and down the road in Ann Arbor. Even with the Spartan basketball team eliminated the night prior they still didn’t sell out with thousands of empty seats on Saturday.

 

The Spartans in fairness had a very good bounce back campaign this season. They started fast and finished slow and in the world of big business sports, people remember the end. Sure they play nine freshman and six sophomores, and they will wait on two of their best players to make pro choices later. 

 

This isn’t like most programs. This isn’t like a Northwestern in basketball that is not going to the NCAA tournament, but will relish their off-season with their first ever 20-win season. This is a three time national champion program (basketball has two) that can’t get a foothold among their fans.

 

This is a team who essentially had their dance ticket punched to the NCAA tournament, who fumbled it away to Michigan. This is a program once self-sufficient like Izzo’s cagers and Dantonio’s football program that is bleeding red. This is a program that still can’t seem to grab the heart and emotions of a loyal fan base.

 

No doubt, the hockey was better this season. No doubt that the future has potential, but how long can potential be acceptable? The empty seats and revenue loss make life much harder than anything. We will have much more on the MSU hockey program in the April 2010 Spartan Nation Magazine.