Can Spartan Icers Get Bid to NCAA Tournament?

Don't look now, the resurgent Spartan hockey team is pointing toward this weekend as a "make or break", critical time in creating the special year they had hoped for. GSN takes a look on how they got this far, and what the future looks like for Rick Comley's bunch.

OKEMOS,MI - How interesting is this? The Spartan hockey team is now getting fans talking at the water cooler as they attempt to have a special year and get a bid to the NCAA tournament.

Right now MSU is in third place in the CCHA, after Michigan held on to beat Lake Superior State on Saturday by the score of 4-2. The Spartans are ranked 10th in the Division I Men's Poll. Only 16 teams get a bid to the NCAA tournament with six automatic qualifiers to the winners of the ECAC, WCHA, Hockey East, CCHA, Atlantic, and the CHA.

This now gives MSU 27 points, to UM's 28 points, but there is still a lot of hockey left to be played in the next couple of weeks.

Miami(OH) currently sits in first place with a 17-4-2 league record, and 36 points. UM sits in 2nd place with a 13-8-3 league record, and 28 points, followed by the third place Spartans with a 11-7-6 record, and 27 points.

If Miami just gets two points in three games next week, they will win the outright CCHA championship. However MSU still has a chance.

The Spartans have a possiblity of getting a total of 36 points with their last four games, two against Miami(OH) on the 17th and 18th of February, and then two against Lake Superior State on the 23rd and 25th.

Therefore, if Miami(OH) loses to OSU on Tuesday, and MSU can sweep them, the Redhawks will only have a four point lead with 2 games left for each team. However, that is a lot of 'if's' and a big collapse on the part of Miami will have to happen.

This may be an especially difficult scenario for MSU to accomplish, since Miami(OH) has Bowling Green at home, and MSU has Lake Superior State on the road.

MSU would be wise to just finish strong and win out, and hope for a solid NCAA berth.

For MSU, it should take at least another victory to earn a first round bye, or perhaps a win and a tie to reach 31 points.

How did MSU get this far? Before Christmas time, Coach Comley challenged his team to give an "honest day's work, for an honest day's pay" type effort. In other words, when you get on the ice, make the most of it, and do the little things as a team that can help you win.

MSU followed that lead on a balanced team that has no superstars. Some wrote MSU off early because of the departure of Jim Slater from last year, but MSU jumped out early with a 5-1-1 record, before injuries and the inexperience of the freshmen showed during a rough November in which they could only win two games out of 10.

Then from December 2nd to January 20th, with the freshmen gaining much needed experience, and confidence, MSU went on a 9-2-1 tear, and MSU currently has a 3-0-2 record in it's last five games for a current overall record of 17-10-7.

The Spartans have been especially effective in the conference, and most notably on defense and in goaltending.

In league play, the Spartans have a league leading five shutouts, and are third in save percentage at .913%. Dominic Vicari has three shutouts and Jeff Lerg has two. They also are fourth in the league allowing just 2.46 goals per game.

Offensively they have been moving the puck well and have been productive. They are fifth in goals with 2.96 per game, 4th in assists at 5.21, 4th in power play goals at 1.12, and 3rd in power play percentage at 1.85.

They have also played some smart hockey, being first in the league in accumlating just 15.88 penalty minutes per game. Keeping them out of a lot of some key penalty killing situations.

Of course, much of this resurgence can be credited to the freshmen, especially the line of Tim Kennedy, Tim Crowder, and Justin Abdelkader.

Abkelkader has come on in conference play, leading the Spartans here with five power play goals and two game winners. Kennedy also has two game winners himself.

But don't count out the veterans, Colton Fretter has 3 game winning goals, Bryan Lerg has two game winners, and a hat trick, and Tyler Howells has a solid +9 in the (+/-) category.

David Booth and Drew Miller have made key contributions as well. Booth battling over injuries to finally become productive.

Finally, another key sign that the Spartans are turning the corner is their record in one point games. The Spartans are 5-2 in their last seven one goal games, and 7-4 overall in one goal games this year.

They also have pushed eleven games to overtime this year, and have a nice 3-1-7 record, losing just one of eleven overtime games this year.

GSN will keep track of the Spartan hockey team in the coming days as they make a run at a special season.

Contributing: GSN editor Mike Fowler

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