Sunday, March 18, 2012

MSU hockey earns first NCAA Tournament berth since 2008

(Bracket here, ticket information here)

It came right down to the wire and was the difference by a couple thousandths of a decimal, but the MSU hockey team earned a berth in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, the program's first appearance since 2008.

The Spartans will take on No. 1 seed Union, which is the No. 3 overall seed, in the East Region in Bridgeport, Conn. The game will take place Friday at 3 p.m. MSU is the No. 14 overall seed, although the Spartans were actually the last at-large team. (Cornell moved down to No. 15 because Michigan is No. 2 overall).

After Union's and Air Force's wins last night, MSU finished tied with Northern Michigan for 15th in the Pairwise rankings. But MSU was ahead of NMU by .0047 in the RPI, which put MSU ahead by .0121 in the Pairwise. MSU will keep playing, while NMU's season is done. You really can't get much closer than that.

As close as it was, you can officially say the first season of the Tom Anastos era was a major success. Under Rick Comley, MSU won the national championship in 2007 and reached the regional final in 2008, but the program quickly fell into irrelevance with second-to-last place finishes in the CCHA in 2009 and 2011. Anastos inherited a team with more seniors than any MSU team in decades, but the job he did to get MSU back into the tournament really was incredible. It is MSU's 27th tournament appearance, which is fourth-most all-time.

The crowds at Munn Ice Arena are getting better, too. One of the most prolific programs in college hockey is back on the upswing. (Honestly, this is quite comparable to what Brady Hoke did with Michigan football).

That senior class was in danger of becoming the program's first since 1981 to never reach an NCAA Tournament (Ron Mason's second season and MSU's last in the WCHA), but they got the job done.

I wrote when Anastos was hired that no one could predict how he would be as a head coach. A conference commissioner moving into a head-coaching role was such an incredibly rare thing. But Mark Hollis once again has struck gold with a coaching hire, and MSU hockey is back where it belongs.

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