Spartans confident in postseason battle at Notre Dame: ‘Expect to win rather than going there and hoping to win’


Sarah Smith

Jagger Joshua brings the puck up the ice during Michigan State’s tie with No. 5 Penn State on January 14, 2023. Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

Jacob Stinson, Hockey Beat Reporter

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — With a bye to end the regular season, Michigan State spent the final weekend as fans, hoping that the chips fell in a way that would bring home-ice advantage in the Big Ten tournament.

It led Jagger Joshua to do something he never had before.

“It definitely wasn’t the best feeling, especially rooting for Michigan,” he said. “That’s not something I really enjoyed.”

Joshua and the Spartans needed their rivals to beat Notre Dame once that weekend, which, coupled with Penn State’s loss to Wisconsin — would bring postseason hockey to Munn Ice Arena for the first time since Big Ten hockey began in 2013-14.

That didn’t happen, so now MSU heads to Notre Dame.

“It would have been nice to get home ice,” Michigan State coach Adam Nightingale said. “You know, I think we’re so thankful for the crowds we’ve had, the support and all this excitement with the program.”

However, he urged his players to keep perspective. The Spartans were projected to finish last in the Big Ten’s preseason coaches’ poll. Despite that, their fifth-place finish is tied for the second-best in program history and best since the conference expanded to seven teams.

“Coming into the season, we talked a lot about trying to earn some respect, and I think we have done that in college hockey, but we’re still not to the level we want to get to,” Nightingale said. 

He said that this weekend presents another opportunity to take a step forward. The Spartans have never won a Big Ten tournament game before, but goalie Dylan St. Cyr is confident that his team can do it against the Fighting Irish.

“I think it’s a mindset,” St. Cyr said. “That’s the biggest thing. I think that’s the change in the culture that’s having to come now is having the mindset to expect to win rather than going there and hoping to win.”

Michigan State returns to South Bend for the first time since Oct. 28-29, the opening weekend of conference play. That weekend, following a 5-0 blowout, MSU responded with a 1-1 tie and the shootout win.

If anything, that shootout win proved to the Spartans they can beat the Irish, which they kept in mind for the Feb. 3-4 series in East Lansing. There, the Spartans swept Notre Dame for the first time since 2006, giving them confidence they can do the same in the tournament.

“Our record against them this year I would say gives us confidence,” Joshua said. “We’ve obviously seen them a couple times now, and we’ve had some success against them and their system.”

Since that sweep, however, the Irish have won four straight on the back of an outstanding stretch from goalie Ryan Bischel. Boasting the second-highest save percentage in college hockey (.932), Bischel ended the season stopping 174 of 181 shots against two top-10 teams.


St. Cyr, who played two seasons with Bischel at Notre Dame, recognized the chance to beat his former teammates again, but he remained focused on the game in front of him.  

“It’s always a fun little rivalry,” he said. “You get to go back and play against your buddies…but once you kind of get on the ice, it’s back to that game mode, and we have a job to do.”

Despite the recent success against the Irish, the Spartans know that winning a playoff series on the road won’t be easy.

“It’s very rare to sweep Notre Dame,” Nightingale said. “Historically, it doesn’t happen very often. Their ability to bounce back, and I think their coaches do a great job of focusing on the right things and the way their team plays.”

If they pull it off, however, Michigan State is back in contention for the NCAA Tournament. The Irish are No. 14 in PairWise, while the Spartans are No. 19. A win (plus some losses from the other bubble teams) would put them back in line for a berth.

“We’d love an opportunity to play in the tournament,” Nightingale said. “But those are all things that we got to take care of today to make sure that happens.”

The road ahead won’t be easy for the Spartans. If they win this weekend, they likely face either Minnesota or Michigan in the semifinals. However, it all starts in South Bend.

While, like Nightingale said, Notre Dame is a well-coached team, St. Cyr believes Michigan State can use that to its advantage.

“They’re a really structured and well-coached team,” said St. Cyr. So I think we kind of have to exploit that knowing that their game is predictable in ways that we can try to exploit.”