It was not suppose to work this way. Michigan State had a terrible year. They only won three games on the road all year. They never won two games in a single weekend all year. They just made this trip two weeks ago, so they had to be tired. Players were getting sick with the flu on the way out there, and other players were nursing injuries.
They didn't stand a chance.
So, Yanakeff stole game one. Michigan State was "badly" out-shot. Did you see game 2? Alaska dominated. So game 3 was all over - Michigan State had no legs left, and they got their one shot in on Friday. Alaska even started the game with two power plays and eventually got a 1-0 lead. Blowout city here we come, population: Michigan State.
And then..... It happened.
Now, I can't sit here and pretend that Michigan State went on the road and defeated the #1 team in the country in a playoff series, or won a league championship, but this series meant something. For everything that has happened this year, the fact that these Spartans found a way to pull it and hold it together long enough for a weekend - to win at a place that isn't easy to win even before you factor in the travel. Then you throw in the fact that Michigan State fell behind 1-0 and then nearly blew a 4-1 lead. There were plenty of times for this team to fold, but they didn't. They stood tall, stayed strong, and found a way. As good teams tend to do - find a way to win.
Game one was Michigan State's first CCHA post season victory since game 1 of the 2008 CCHA quarterfinals against Northern Michigan. This series was Michigan State's first series victory since a two game sweep over Nebraska Omaha in 2007. That was so long ago, UNO was actually part of the CCHA.
Simply put, for this team and this coaching staff to find the motivation and determination to win this series really speaks volumes of the program. It was a program win. This team might not advance to Joe Louis Arena. After all, Michigan State has a seven game winless streak against Miami. Miami earned five of six points this year in the season series against MSU, and they swept Michigan State last year in the CCHA play-offs. Plus, the Spartans didn't get back into East Lansing until Monday night, which limits the amount of prep time the staff can do on the ice with the players.
After a rough season - even by the kindest of terms - the Spartans finally got rewarded for their efforts. It shows that the foundation is there for the future. Yes, it's still up to the staff to recruit, the players to improve in the off-season, and everyone to put it together once October rolls around. We can't pretend that it'll mean next year everything will be ok, but if the Spartans move back to where they are used to be - near or at the top of the standings, a Frozen Four threat, and a national title contender - it will be this team that we can point to that laid the foundation, that played with its heart, and showed everyone this program won't roll over - even if there are many opportunities and no one would have blamed them for getting their season over with. And maybe, just maybe, deep in the wilderness of Fairbanks, Alaska - the program was reborn under this coaching staff.
The effort against Miami, a team that everyone is going to pick to win, will certainly continue to show everyone just what the program is capable of doing. The odds are certainly stacked up against Michigan State once again.Just like they were this weekend. And then a funny thing happened. The underdog forgot that it was an underdog. And the underdog is still fighting. I imagine they'll be fighting right till the end, and I think they wouldn't have it any other way right now.
And considering the last time the team won a CCHA Playoff series was 2007 - the last time MSU won the national title - no pressure guys. No really. Just take it one game at a time.