Top Line Powers Men’s Hockey to Opening Night Win

It was nearly a perfect start for the men’s hockey team as they received goals from four different players in a 5-3 win over UMass at Munn Arena Friday night.

Mackenzie MacEachern had a goal and two assists and Matt Berry had two goals and an assist to power the offense. Jake Hildebrand had 21 saves.

The Spartans are now 3-0 against the Minutemen at Munn and are now 41-29-4 all-time in season opening games.

“I thought it was a good start for us,” fourth-year coach Tom Anastos said. “There’s a lot of things that we liked. We saw some things we’ve been working on both offensively and defensively and that was a good sign.”

The top line of MacEachern, Berry and Michael Ferrantino combined for three goals and five assists on the night for the Spartans, who received goals from three of the four lines. Part of the line’s success started with Ferrantino, who won 17 of his 21 face-offs.

“We got put together pretty early this year so we’ve been working a lot in practice just getting used to cycling with each other down low and I think we feed off each other really good,” Berry said. “We all play pretty aggressive down low and I think that really helps feed our line.”

The electric crowd at Munn did not have to wait long to celebrate, as Berry got Michigan State on the board 3:37 into the game.

Ferrantino was carrying the puck along the wall and he spun, firing a shot towards net, and Berry was camped out at the edge of the crease and put it behind goalie Steve Mastalerz.

Michigan State would be dealt a big blow as Brent Darnell was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct for boarding Minutemen forward Ben Gallacher in the corner. Gallacher was helped off the ice and did not return.

The Spartans managed to kill off the penalty and momentum completely swung in their favor.

“Our penalty killers did a great job tonight,” Berry said. “They went out there, blocked shots. They really sold out tonight for the team. It really helped us feed into the next period having that two-goal lead still.”

One shorthanded pairing in particular had a strong showing as Ferrantino and MacEachern had a good number of chances while on the penalty kill.

“It’s a little bit new for both of us so we wanted to make a good impression there the first night,” Ferrantino said. “We’ve been working on it a lot in practice and something we’re really trying to improve on this year.”

Anastos liked what he saw from them too.

“I thought they came out of the zone pretty well,” Anastos said. “They read off each other pretty well. They had a couple good opportunities. They play with a lot of energy and between energy and intelligence, if you can protect the puck and make some little plays at key times, you can generate something.”

Almost on cue, 43 seconds after the penalty expired, the Spartans extended their lead with J.T. Stenglein notching his first of the year late in the first period.

The Minutemen would strike early in the second period on a quick play off the sideboards. Forward Shane Walsh picked up the puck in the corner and threw a perfect pass to a wide-open Keith Burchett. All Burchett had to do was finish the dunk to cut the lead to 2-1.

The Minutemen would start to dig themselves a hole by getting into penalty trouble shortly after their goal, but they would get even with a shorthanded goal by senior Zack LaRue just over four minutes later.

LaRue and Dennis Kravchenko broke out on a two-on-one with only Josh Jacobs back. Kravchenko dished the puck to LaRue and his shot deflected off Jacobs and got behind Hildebrand to even the score.

The Spartans would not let the goal get the better of them as they went right back to the attack.

“There was no panic on our bench,” Ferrantino said. “We obviously knew that we had to find our game again and get back to what made us successful in the first period. It was good. The guys responded well and I thought we picked it up after that.”

“That was big to just rebound from it,” Anastos said. “Being able to respond in a relatively short duration I think was important to regain the momentum. Fortunately we were able to do that and then start to build a lead, which built more momentum and more confidence.”

A shot from the point bounced off the backboards right to MacEachern on the opposite side of the net and MacEachern popped one top shelf from an almost impossible angle to give the Spartans a 3-2 lead.

Michigan State carried the play thanks to four power-plays in the period and they outshot the Minutemen 12-5 in the frame.

The Spartans would expand the lead midway through the third period with two goals just over four minutes apart with goals from Matt DeBlouw and Berry to give them a 5-2 lead.

DeBlouw showed a great burst of speed up the left wing after Ryan Keller made a terrific play on the back check in the defensive end. He was able to step past the defenseman and fire one in from inside the left faceoff circle.

Burchett would get his second of the game for the Minutemen to make it a 5-3 game at 13:18, where the score stood to give the Spartans a win in their opener.

The Spartans return to the ice Saturday night at 7 p.m. for the final game of the series against UMass.

Brian Bobal is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports

Photo: Brian Bobal/Impact Sports