East Lansing, Mich. — The first heavy snow of the season didn’t stop Michigan State from hosting the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Munn Ice Arena. The Irish came into the game ranked No. 8 in the country, and are heading into 2018 fresh off the back of two straight Frozen Four appearances. After a rough time on the road, losing their last three games, the Spartans were very happy to be back in Munn Ice Arena. The matchup was the Spartans’ first Big Ten game this season.
“The Big Ten is tight and competitive,” said Cole. “I like it and enjoy it, it’s really good hockey.”
It was a rocky homecoming for the Spartans even though they controlled the pace early as Notre Dame’s Joe Wegwerth was able to capitalize off an opportunistic bounce off his own chest and beat the Spartans freshman goalie Drew DeRidder just over two minutes into the game.
Deridder settled in nicely after the early goal, making 18 saves on 20 shots while being in proper position all night. The freshman made his third start in a Michigan State uniform. DeRidder had his best outing of the early season, an encouraging sign for Michigan State head coach Danton Cole in having two reliable goaltenders.
“I got a lot of experience at the US development program playing college teams, I knew what I was heading into,” said DeRidder. “It’s obviously a different atmosphere and I feel like I’ve adapted pretty well.”
Michigan State outshot the Fighting Irish 11-8 in the first frame but weren’t able to find the back of the net. The most notable close call for the Spartans came as defenseman Zach Osburn fired a wrister from just outside the right circle and the puck trickled under Notre Dame’s Cale Morris just wide of the net. As for most of the game the first period was evenly played but the Fighting Irish got the bounces.
“It was a good hockey game,” said Cole. “If we were on the other end of it, it’d been a great hockey game.”
The first 10 minutes of the second period could put the biggest hockey fan to sleep as there wasn’t much exciting action, as both teams were living in the neutral zone. Notre Dame awoke from their slumber as Cal Burke blocked Spartan captain Sam Saliba’s shot leading to a breakaway where the ND assistant captain was able to beat Deridder five-hole 12:07 into the second period.
Notre Dame’s defense was stifling as the MSU seemed not to be able to put any quality chances together even as MSU continued to outshoot the Notre Dame 20-15 after two periods. It seemed like Michigan State didn’t have a clean shot at Morris all night.
“They’re a defensive team and have a good goalie, we gotta somehow overcome that, tonight we didn’t,” said sophomore center Patrick Khodorenko.
Spartan right winger Mitchell Lewandowski played a tough, gritty game filled with hard work on the forecheck and blocking shots while in the defensive zone the first two periods. The Spartans were able to finally able capitalize on that hard work as Lewandowski assisted on MSU’s first goal, scored by Khodorenko 9:45 into the third period.
“When your better players do things right it just makes it a lot easier,” said Cole.
The KHL line started slow but became a major factor at the end of the game leading the Spartans’ mad scramble to tie the game as MSU went to the power play with 2:15 remaining. MSU created plenty of chances as Khodorenko almost tallied his second of the night but was left heartbroken by the sound of the crossbar.
The Fighting Irish put insult to injury with a last-second empty netter from Graham Slaggert icing the game. The 3-1 loss puts the Spartans to 4-5 on the season and 0-1 in Big Ten play. Michigan State will get another crack tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.