Spartans Are Moving Forward

DenisePopiolek

Written by Josh Price

The month of November is now in the rear view mirror, and the Michigan State hockey team is breathing a sigh of relief. The past month was one that most of the players would like to forget, which included eight consecutive losses. The Spartans are currently 7-5-5 after starting the season 5-1-1.
The second month of the season was tough for many reasons. Expectations were high after the fast start which included wins over Cornell and North Dakota, as well as splitting the first series with Michigan. At this point the Spartans were ranked nationally, and looked to be a lock as contenders once March roles around.

What lead to the team’s debacle was an abundance of injuries. Early on, freshman Nick Sucharski and Tim Kennedy were diagnosed with Mononucleosis. Just recently Assistant Captain Jared Nightingale was also added to that list, and on the December 3rd the team was forced to play without the help of Captain Drew Miller who was inactive due to a shoulder injury. These are the types of issues that Michigan State’s hockey team has had to deal with thus far.

The beginning of the month of December was the breath of fresh air that the Spartans needed. They opened it up by splitting the series against Bowling Green, which included a 3-0 shutout on the Dec. 2. The team continued their winning ways the following weekend when they traveled to play the University of Alaska Fairbanks. While they started strong on Dec. 9 with a three goal lead, they were unable to hold the Nanooks and settled for a 4-4 tie. They followed with a very strong showing on Saturday, which resulted in another 3-0 shutout in their favor.

One reason for the recent turnaround in production has been the play of sophomore Bryan Lerg. He scored four goals in the series against Bowling Green, which included a hat trick in the first game. Lerg’s performance against Alaska Fairbanks was equally as impressive, where he tallied up two more goals. His six goals in the final four games of the first half of the season seem to have been the boost of energy that the team needed. Lerg’s play has been a vast improvement since the beginning of the season, where in the first fifteen games he managed to score only two goals. The MSU hockey team also received strong play defensively. Junior goaltender Dominic Vicari earned two shutouts in the final four games, increasing his number of scoreless games this year to four. In his final effort against Alaska Fairbanks he accumulated 32 saves during the win. What was most impressive in the victory was their ability to hold the lead by killing penalties. They managed to stave off the Nanooks during four consecutive penalties in the second period. The defenders also kept the game scoreless during a six-on-four power play with 4:52 left in the third period when Alaska Fairbanks pulled their goalie.

The Spartan’s next appearance with be against Michigan Tech on December 29th in the Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena, in an attempt protect their standing as defending champions of the tournament. Last year the team defeated New Hampshire and Michigan on their way to victory. MSU will then play either Michigan or Colorado College on the 30th.

After the dismal month of November, the Michigan State hockey team has begun to take steps in the right direction. Increased production from their strongest players and a defense which lead to two shutouts is what has pushed them to finish the first half of the season at 2-1-1. The holiday break will also give the squad adequate time to recover from all of the nagging injuries. There are still 19 regular season games left, which gives them plenty of time to go on a run heading into the CCHA playoffs which begin on March 3rd.

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