KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Coming into Saturday’s game, John Lethemon only made 35 saves in his young collegiate career. He stopped 35 Western Michigan shots in a 3-1 loss at Lawson Ice Arena on Saturday.
Michigan State (2-2-0) came out strong, but in a tough environment with a team desperate to get a win, Western Michigan (3-3-1) dominated the first 10 minutes of play. Only on a few occasions did MSU have any sustained offensive zone pressure. When they did, there was little they could do as they only managed three shots in the entire first period.
After stuffing the Bronco power play, Michigan State surrendered the first goal to Bronco forward Hugh McGing who took the puck in the slot and went bar-down on Lethemon.
Despite being outshot 13-3 on the scoreboard, Spartan coach Danton Cole said that the game shouldn’t be analyzed by those statistics.
“If you coach games by the shot clock you’re an idiot,” Cole said.
Michigan State was still in the game regardless of the disproportionate number of shots on goal. A lot of that had to do with the play of Lethemon.
“I thought tonight was better than yesterday, at least from a goalie perspective,” Lethemon said. “I felt a lot better, better puck touches, better puck movement behind the net and I felt more comfortable and was able to control a bit more of the game.”
Throughout the second period, the play evened out a little bit. However, Western Michigan still seemed to have an extra step on the Spartans, who never backed down in the hostile environment.
“I liked the way our guys battled, I liked the way they held together and I thought our goaltending was really good,” Cole said.
So far this season, Michigan State has saved the third period for its best performances and that was the case on Saturday.
After killing off four Bronco power plays, the Spartans were awarded a man-advantage less than two minutes into the third when Bronco forward Scott Moldehauer hooked Spartan forward Taro Hirose from behind.
On the ensuing power play, Michigan state found pay dirt as Carson Gatt received a quick pass and sent a hard shot that was one-timed by sophomore Patrick Khodorenko to tie the score 1-1.
“I think Taro [Hirose] went in a scooped it after Khodorenko won the faceoff. Passed it over to me, looked for a shot, didn’t see much. Saw the lane open for Paddy [Khodorenko], threw it to him and he made a great play. That was a hard pass and for him to get all of that that was pretty impressive,” Gatt said.
The tie game would only last for a few minutes however, as the Broncos scored the eventual game winning goal on a strong play as Western Michigan forward Josh Passolt streaked in along the nearside, cut in front of the goal and tucked a low shot beneath Lethemon.
Michigan State had several good chances, including a five-on-three power play to tie the game but could not convert. The Broncos netted an empty-net goal at the 19:24 mark to ice the game 3-1.
Despite to loss, there were plenty of positives to take away from this game and the weekend. The first is obviously the play of Lethemon, who is quickly becoming the frontrunner in the MSU goaltending battle.
Second is the fact that Michigan State has now scored a power play goal in all four games this season. Finally, as Cole alluded to, the Spartans were in the game until the very end and were in position to tie.
“You make the deal and you say ‘hey if we’re going to be in this game and hang around and battle and battle and battle and have a chance pulling our goalie at the end of the game’ you know what? That’s a good spot to be in,” Cole said.
The Spartans will regroup and get set to host their first true home series as they welcome Lake Superior State to Munn Arena for two games on Friday and Saturday.