Spartans’ seniors leave a legacy, ‘laying the foundation’ to rebuild ‘the greatest program in college hockey’


Jack Moreland

The Michigan State Hockey seniors during senior night at Munn Ice Arena on February 4, 2023. Photo Credit: Jack Moreland/WDBM

Jacob Stinson, Hockey Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING — The 10 seniors on Michigan State’s roster have been through it all. Some of them have spent four or five years with the Spartans. They’ve had seasons cut short, played in empty arenas, gone on historic losing streaks and endured coaching changes, all in the last four years. 

Others only came to East Lansing for one season, but they’ve made the most of it. They joined a group that changed the fortunes of a hockey program that’s on pace for its first winning season since 2014-15.

After a 3-2 win and series sweep of No. 20 Notre Dame on Saturday, Michigan State coach Adam Nightingale reflected on what his first senior class meant to him. Only three seniors — goalie Dylan St. Cyr, captain Miroslav Mucha and forward Ryan Nolan — had committed to MSU after Nightingale became head coach, so he thanked the group for believing in him and being great teammates.

“I think change isn’t easy,” Nightingale said. “A lot of these guys were already here or already committed to (Michigan State) coming in, and to have a new coach and to trust our staff, you know, it’s not an easy thing to do.”

St. Cyr is one of the five who transferred for their final season. After spending four years at Notre Dame and one at Quinnipiac, the Northville native came back to play his last season in his home state. For St. Cyr, playing his senior night against the school where he began his college career, made the game extra special.

“Even just to see some of those guys,” St. Cyr said, “even when we were doing the senior night ceremony, but they’re coming up on the bench to say hi. I still know about half that team and the support staff and coaching staff as well.”

St. Cyr’s play was critical in the Spartans’ sweep of the Fighting Irish. He stopped 65 of 67 shots on the weekend and made a few highlight-reel saves along the way. 

Those saves create a synergy between St. Cyr and his teammates. He said that the confidence he gets from making the saves helps the players in front of him be their best.

“I think that’s something you want to portray to your team,” he said, “obviously so they have confidence in you, and you show confidence in your team…gives me confidence with the way our team played this weekend.”

Despite his performance, St. Cyr was still quick to recognize those who had put in more time in a green and white sweater than him.

“Obviously here on senior night,” St. Cyr said, “for the guys who put in four years and even the grad transfers who’ve come in, it’s obviously really special. And then to do it against a team like Notre Dame in an important time of the year, it’s all awesome.”

One of those seniors is forward Nicolas Müller, who had a sensational two-goal, two-assist weekend. He teamed up with fellow senior Erik Middendorf and junior Jeremy Davidson for the Spartans’ second goal of the game.

“Middy made a nice play,” Davidson said, “dropped it through his legs, and I kind of picked it up. I knew I had a guy on my back, and I just kind of tried to get it to the front of the net. Nico (Müller) happened to be there, and it was right on his tape, so it’s pretty fortunate.”

Müller is now tied with Karsen Dorwart for the team lead in points (25), but, like the rest of the team, he tries not to concern himself with statistics.

“I definitely get a lot of opportunities that I’m really thankful for,” Müller said after Friday’s 3-0 win, “but I think it’s just fun playing with the team and adding the wins. I think individually, it’s always also nice, but it’s a lot of fun playing with the team and (to) get those wins.”

Most importantly, Nightingale is thankful for how his seniors have impacted the underclassmen. According to him, seniors like Müller and St. Cyr have helped establish the culture that the new coach wants for his program.

“We’re judging them on effort,” Nightingale said, “we’re judging them on attitude, judging them on being a great teammate, and those guys have done it every day for us.”

That culture allows Nightingale to develop the underclassmen, who he says have stepped up in a big way down the stretch.

“I think they’re playing their best hockey right now,” he said, “and it’s a great sign for our program…once you get a group of people like that, that are motivated and self-driven, that’s a good sign for your program.”

A prime example of that development is sophomore defenseman David Gucciardi. Gucciardi blasted a puck from the blue line past Notre Dame goalie Ryan Bischel, which eventually became the game-winner.

Entering the series, Gucciardi had recorded one point since Nov. 26. Despite the lack of production on the scoresheet, Nightingale praised Gucciardi for his overall improvement away from the puck. 

“He’s a young defenseman,” Nightingale said, “ and I think (he’s) learning what a real defenseman looks like. He’s an elite skater, and to use his skating to defend and close and eliminate time and space, and then be able to make quick decisions offensively…less focus on points and more being a real, world-class defenseman.”

Michigan State still has four regular season games left, including two against rival Michigan. In a tight race in the Big Ten standings, the Spartans will continue to lean on their seniors for leadership.

However, their legacy goes beyond the box scores of this season.

“We’re not done yet here this year,” Nightingale said, “and I think we’ll continue to get better, but they’re laying the foundation for what I think is the greatest program in college hockey, and we’re trying to build it back.”