Stellar Spartan defense salvages split with No. 7 Wisconsin

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EAST LANSING, Mich. — Coming off a 6-3 defeat at the hands of the No. 7 Wisconsin on Friday, Michigan State was back at Munn Ice Arena Saturday looking to redeem the previous night’s loss. And that is exactly what the Spartans did, going on to win 2-0 in a great defensive performance.

“I think it shows the character we have in this room, the type of team that we have,” sophomore John Lethemon said, who had 38 saves on the night. “We’re starting to come together and jell and mesh as a team and we weren’t happy about last night obviously, and we wanted payback and I thought throughout the course of the game, we got what we needed out of everybody, and that’s how you win tight hockey games and that’s how you split series with good teams.”

The game started slow, and 18 minutes into the first period, it was a complete stalemate with virtually no scoring chances. However, with two minutes remaining in the period, the Spartans drew a penalty, and seven seconds into the powerplay, they found the net for the game’s first goal. Patrick Khodorenko won a puck in the corner and swung it to Taro Hirose sitting at the point. Hirose found a wide open Cody Milan right beneath the net and Milan put it into a completely unattended net.

The Spartans were outshot 11-2 in the period, but still went into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead.

The second period was much the same as the first. The Spartans were outshot 15-9, but neither team was able to put the puck in the back of the net. In addition, the Badgers had three power plays in the period, but the Spartan penalty kill held strong, keeping the Badgers off the scoreboard.

“I think we were a lot better defensively,” said sophomore Taro Hirose. “We gave up a lot of shots tonight, but there were only a few good opportunities and our penalty kill was really good tonight and it was really good to see Leth (Lethemon) get that shutout.”

The Spartans got their second goal when Khodorenko stole the puck at the blue line, took it down the wing. Khodorenko then passed it across the ice to Hirose who swung it to freshman Mitchell Lewandowski and he was wide open in the slot and buried it in the top right corner for his team leading sixth goal of the season.

That would be enough for the Spartans. The Badgers would pull their goalie for the final three minutes but could not muster a goal and the Spartans went on to win 2-0.

This was the exact type of wins the Spartans will need to pull out in the Big Ten season going forward. They played tough defense and got great goaltending play from Lethemon.

“I’m real happy for the guys,” Spartan coach Danton Cole said. “They played real hard and I think we tried to take some of the good things we did last night and build on those and I thought we did. I thought their energy and their spirit was real good.”

Hirose said the biggest thing he took away from this game was the team’s ability to win close games

“Those were the wins we weren’t getting last year, so just our ability to win those close games is something we have to keep up and keep that going in the rest of the Big Ten,” Hirose said.

The three stars of the game were Patrick Khodorenko, Taro Hirose, and John Lethemon, all three are sophomores.

The Spartans next game is Friday, Nov. 17 at 7:05 p.m. at Munn Ice Arena against Ferris State.

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