MSU's senior class has had the definition of up-and-down careers.
Their first season came after MSU had made three straight NCAA Tournaments, but the Spartans lost 23 games and finished 11th in the CCHA in 2008-09 — the worst season in decades for MSU. In 2009-10, they rebounded to finish second in the CCHA. But a late-season collapse (including a home sweep to Michigan in the CCHA Tournament) left them out of the NCAA Tournament. Last season was another disaster — a 10th place finish with head coach Rick Comley retiring after the season.
But with this weekend's sweep of Alaska, the Spartans now sit in fourth place in the CCHA and are getting closer to their first NCAA Tournament. MSU won Friday's game 3-2 in overtime and shut out the Nanooks 3-0 in Saturday's game, sending out its largest senior class (nine) since 1977-78 on a high note.
On Friday, Alaska scored the first goal of the game, but Brent Darnell tallied two by the end of the first period to give MSU the lead. In the second, the Nanooks tied the game on a powerplay goal. It was the first powerplay goal allowed by MSU since Jan. 29 at Ferris State. The game went to overtime, where Brett Perlini picked up a turnover by the Nanooks their zone and buried a backhander for the win. Will Yanakeff make 25 saves in net for MSU.
Senior Night on Saturday went as well as possible for the Spartans. (It also was Hockey Day in Michigan). Dean Chelios put the Spartans on top in the first when he poked home a loose puck in front of the net. In the second, Tanner Sorenson and Lee Reimer scored two minutes apart as MSU opened up a 3-0 lead. Senior goalie Drew Palmisano closed the door the rest of the way, earning a shutout in his final home game. Palmisano finished with 27 saves. MSU's powerplay went 2-for-9 on the weekend.
With the pair of wins, the Spartans jumped idle Ohio State into fourth place in the CCHA. The top five teams get a first-round bye in the CCHA Tournament, and the top four get home ice in the second round. The Spartans have guaranteed they will not be on the road in the first round, but the logjam that is the CCHA standings is far from being decided. MSU is one point behind third place Western Michigan and is two points ahead of fifth-place Miami.
The Spartans travel to Notre Dame next weekend for the final regular season series. While the Irish sit in eighth place, no current Spartan has won in South Bend. In fact, MSU hasn't won at Notre Dame since Feb. 3, 2006.
The first season of the Tom Anastos era obviously has been a success for MSU, but there still is a long way to go. Having nine seniors certainly has helped the transition. As close as we are to the NCAA Tournament, there still is little room for error for the Spartans.