The hopes of Michigan State returning to the Great Lakes Invitational championship game for the second year in a row have since been erased, as the Spartans fell 3-2 in overtime to Michigan Tech Tuesday afternoon.
“Very frustrating for our team,” Michigan State coach Tom Anastos said. “I thought it was a hard played game. We’ve had three of those with them and they all have had a very similar recipe where we came out on the short end, and we did that again.”
One thing the Spartans have been searching desperately for this season is puck-luck, and they were finally able to find it just 5:24 into the first. Junior forward JT Stenglein let a shot go from the right side; Tech goaltender Jamie Phillips made the initial save, but the puck was placed perfectly on the skate off Matt Deblouw, who scored his second goal of the season. Rhett Holland was also credited with an assist on the goal.
“I was very lucky to have the puck hit my skate and I stopped at that exact time,” Deblouw said. “Before that, Rhett made a great play chipping it by and then JT had a nice smart shot right off the pads. We’re told to go to the net, so good things happen when you go to the net.”
The Deblouw goal was the only real action in the first period of the game. However, MSU had a large number of turnovers that created chances for Tech. The Huskies were unable to convert on any of those chances, shooting a lot of the pucks wide of the net.
The game began to pick up in the second period with MTU seemingly beginning to take over. Fortunately for the Spartans, goalie Jake Hildebrand was back to his normal self again, making save after save to preserve the 1-0 lead for the Spartans as best he could.
Hildebrand’s biggest save of the period came roughly half way through. A shot from a Tech player went wide of the net, took a fortuitous bounce and landed right on the stick of MTU forward Tyler Heinonen. Hildebrand quickly shifted his position from the right side of the net to the left and made a diving glove save.
The Spartans were able to draw a lot of momentum for their penalty kill in this game. They killed off a Husky 5-on-3 advantage that lasted 1:36. After that penalty, MSU took another penalty for too many men on the ice. The Spartans, ranked 12th nationally with a man down, promptly killed that one as well.
With 6:55 left in the second period MSU extended their lead to 2-0 on the power play. Mackenzie MacEachern found some open ice just inside the right faceoff circle and patiently waited for the puck. Michael Ferrantino eventually fed the puck to MacEachern, who sent it past Phillips. Brennan Sanford also picked up an assist on MacEachern’s team-leading eighth goal of the season.
Michigan Tech outshot Michigan State 13-5 in the second period, but trailed 2-0 after 40 minutes of play.
The third period was friendly to Michigan Tech when the Huskies played the Spartans in East Lansing earlier this season. Joe Louis Arena showed the same amount of hospitality to the Huskies in the final period of play.
MTU began their comeback with 11:16 to play in the third period. Alex Gillies sent his second goal of the season just under the pad of Hildebrand to cut the Spartan lead to one. The goal would be reviewed, as there looked to be a Husky forward in the crease making contact with Hildebrand. Much to Anastos’ displeasure, the goal stood.
“What I was told was that there was no contact made with Hildy, that he went down to make a save and the player didn’t make contact. The puck was alive and it ended up squirming into the net somehow,” Anastos said.
As the final period winded down, it looked as though Michigan State was going to hang on and Hildebrand was going to save the Spartans. But as they did before, the Huskies fought back.
With 1:26 to play in the game, Holland lost a stick to the boards of Joe Louis and Hildebrand wandered away from his net. MTU freshman forward Jake Lucchini took advantage of the Spartan mistakes and tied the game at two with his third goal of the season.
For the second time this season, the Spartans and Huskies headed to overtime, and it looked as though the two teams would head to a shootout for the second time. But once again, the Huskies scored late in overtime to snatch another win away from the Spartans. This time it was MTU junior Brent Baltus who placed a perfect wrist shot just out of the reach of Hildebrand.
“I want to make that save, especially in overtime,” Hildebrand said of the MTU game-winner. “I just got to find a way to make that next time.”
Baltus’ goal, assisted by Clif Watson and Chris Leibinger, secured the Huskies a spot in the championship game for the first time since 2013.
After a draining loss, both physically and emotionally, the Spartans will look to respond as best they can, when they take on Northern Michigan in the third place game on Wednesday.
“We’re just going to have to regroup,” Deblouw said. “That’s the best thing about hockey, you play the next day. We’re going to have to respond and really judge our character because the second half of the season starts tomorrow and we’re going to have to look for a good win.”