Another game, another late third period collapse for the Spartans. After leading for the majority of the game, Michigan State fell yet again as they lost 2-1 in overtime to Northern Michigan Wednesday afternoon at Joe Louis Arena.
“It sucks to say, but that’s kind of been the story of our season,” freshman forward Mason Appleton said of late Spartan leads disappearing. “We’ve found ourselves with leads with a couple minutes left and found a way to give them up. I don’t really even know what we’re searching for but we’ve just gotta keep our nose to the grind.”
The Spartans needed a quick response after last night’s tough loss to Michigan Tech. A quick response was exactly what they got. Just 1:06 into the game senior defenseman Travis Walsh let a shot go from the point, NMU goaltender Atte Tolvanen made the initial save, but Joe Cox was in the right place at the right time for the easy tip in. The Spartans would take the early 1-0 lead. Michael Ferrantino was also given an assist on the goal.
Other than the first goal, there was not much excitement in the opening 20 minutes of play. There was, however, a big hit by senior forward Ryan Keller on NMU forward Denver Pierce. The hit caused a pane of plexiglass to shatter at the Joe, a brief stoppage in play occurred as a new pane of glass was installed.
While MSU struggled to make clean passes through the neutral zone, goaltender Jake Hildebrand stood tall while facing six NMU shots. Along with Hildebrand, the MSU penalty kill, ranked 12th in the nation, killed their only penalty of the first period when Mackenzie MacEachern took a seat in the box for holding with 6:46 to play in the first.
Neither team was able to create much excitement in the second period. The Michigan State penalty kill continued to be strong, killing off their lone opportunity of the period that came on a Zach Osburn tripping call.
On the other hand, like it has all season, the power play struggled. The Spartans had three opportunities on the man advantage in the second period but were unable to double their 1-0 lead on any of them. The best performance in the period for the Spartans came from Hildebrand, who stopped the seven NMU shots he faced.
“I thought Hildy played really well this weekend,” Michigan State coach Tom Anastos said. “I thought he tracked the puck very well and he made some big saves. Tonight he was there when we needed him and that’s what this team needs.”
If you’ve been following Michigan State hockey at all this season, then you’ve read this story before. The Spartans had a lead late in the game, and once again, they let it slip away. This time it was at the hands of Northern, more specifically forward Dominik Shine, who scored on the power play with 4:15 left in the game.
MSU took a total of six penalties in the game with four of them coming in the the final period of play. The Spartans have done well with a man down this season, but as Anastos put it, they went on the penalty kill too many times and it ended up hurting them in the end.
“There was too many of them, for one,” Anastos said about his team’s frequent trips to the penalty box. “You can’t keep going to the well in that regard because when that happens the same guys are playing and you’re wearing guys down. More than anything you’re taking momentum away from your side and giving them an opportunity.”
As overtime started, MSU had plenty of opportunities to win the game and take third place in the GLI. But as it has all season long the Spartans could not execute and ended up losing their thirteenth game of the season, just three shy of their loss total a season ago.
With 2:22 to play in the overtime period, NMU forward Robbie Payne broke the hearts of Spartan nation when he took a shot on net from just inside the left faceoff circle, beating Hildebrand and securing the third place finish for the Wildcats.
“We’re going to have to do some soul searching. That’s a tough way to start the second half of the season,” Anastos said. “Giving up late leads and losing in overtime the way we did, there’s going to have to be a character check for us.”
All weekend long, Hildebrand tried his best to keep his team in the game. The senior made some incredible saves over the past two days but his team was unable to give him the support he needed to come away with any wins.
“He found his game again, not that he didn’t have it before, but he looked like Hildy from last year at Yost,” Ferrantino said. “We’re frustrated for him, too, because he deserves better and we gotta give him more than one goal tonight.”
It is becoming more and more apparent as the season goes on that this is not the same Spartan team from a year ago. This is not the team that finished second in the Big Ten. There was so much promise for this team coming into the season and for whatever reason they have not lived up to their potential.
Perhaps Ken Daniels said it best during Fox Sports Detroit broadcast when he put the Spartans season into perspective after blowing another late lead.
“This is a team hoping to win instead of expecting to win,” Daniels said. “There’s a big difference.”