When Rustyn Dolyny first appeared in a Michigan State Spartan uniform last season, the excitement of playing U.S. college hockey translated into a successful inaugural year--one which saw him in the running for the CCHA’s rookie-of-the-year honours.
And while he fell just short of that coveted individual accomplishment, his team also fell short of its goal to win a national title.
With this year’s edition expected to be even stronger with the return of veteran snipers Mike York and Bryan Adams, and Dolyny in his sophomore season, the Spartans looked to have a solid shot at winning their first U.S. national title since 1986.
But Michigan State came up short once again, falling 5-3 to the University of New Hampshire Wildcats last Thursday in Anaheim in the semi-finals of the NCAA’s “Frozen Four” hockey showdown.
As good as the Spartans’ season was, compiling a 29-6-7 record, that loss left the team with the feeling they could--and should--have at least advanced to the final Saturday night.
(The Maine Black Bears, which had nipped Boston College 2-1 in overtime in the other semi-final game, went on to squeak past New Hampshire 3-2--again in overtime--to claim the national title).
“Yeah, you definitely have to be happy with our year and it was nice to be in the Final Four, but it’s still bitterly disappointing,” Dolyny said Monday afternoon from campus in East Lansing, Mich.
“Once you are there, you realize you were so close.
“The crowds were great, it was in a great location, and I don’t know if you’ve been there, but the rink is phenomenal,” he added. “The players were all jacked up.”
“We just came back from a team meeting and we talked about going to the Final Four and what we endured, and we expect nothing less than going back there again next year,” he noted.
Dolyny, 22, did his part offensively against New Hampshire, scoring in the final minute of the first period to knot the game at 1-1.
He took a nifty cross-ice touch pass from linemate Shawn Horcoff behind a New Hampshire defenceman just inside the blueline, moved in, and lifted a nice shot just underneath the crossbar to beat sprawling Wildcat goalie Ty Conklin.
But in the end, the Spartans, normally a defensive-minded team, made too many mistakes in their own end while having to contend with B.C. native Jason Krog, this season’s Hobey Baker Award-winner as the top U.S. collegiate hockey player.
“We had a really good season but we just made a few costly mistakes,” said Dolyny, who was fourth in Spartan scoring this season with 18 goals (including four short-handed ones) and 25 assists.
“Everyone on this team worked hard so it leaves a bitter taste in our mouths,” he admitted.
But Dolyny said the Spartans took great pride in the fact MSU became just the second school in U.S. college history to have two programs reach the Final Four in the same season (the basketball team made it last month).
While Dolyny’s production dipped slightly from his 44-point (20 goals and 24 assists) output as a freshman season, he envisioned a more productive year next season.
“We will lose Mike York and Adams, two very big losses, but it will give me more of an opportunity and I already see a lot of ice time on the power play,” said the former Muskie.
“I obviously would have liked to have had a better year offensively but I felt I was a better player and I’m really looking forward to next year,” he enthused.
Although Dolyny knows he will be back in a MSU uniform for the next two seasons, what isn’t so clear--at least for now--is what he’ll do after his college career.
Already past his NHL draft year, and an unrestricted free agent, he must decide to turn pro or make his engineering degree go to work for him? It will be the most difficult decision of his life.
“I’m here for four years and after that I’ll have to take a look at my options,” he reasoned. “Obviously, I’m here to get my degree in engineering but I’ll take my time looking at both ways.
“It’ll be hard to say no to a [pro career] because I just don’t want to hang [my skates] up but, then again, you don’t want to turn down good job offers,” he added.