In front of a sold-out Joe Louis Arena crowd, the Spartans made a bold statement. For the 301st time, the most of any college matchup, Michigan State and No. 13 Michigan went head-to-head on the ice, and the Spartans pulled off a stunning 2-1 upset to win their third game in a row.
“The GLI [Great Lakes Invitational] didn’t end the way we wanted it to, and it was heartbreaking,” Michigan State goaltender Jake Hildebrand said. “We wanted to make a statement in this game and I think we did.”
It was the first time the Spartans beat the Wolverines at the Joe in four years.
“I thought we played real hard,” head coach Tom Anastos said. “I thought we played hard from the start of the game until the end of the game. Defensively we were very sound. We made them earn every bit of space and that’s what we needed to do.”
A balanced attack fueled the Spartans to victory Friday night as both goals came from different lines.
Matt DeBlouw deflected in the game-winner just 1:58 into the third period after driving to the net and getting a piece of Rhett Holland’s shot from the point. It was DeBlouw’s biggest goal to date in his Spartan career.
It has been something Anastos has been preaching to the team for a long time. After DeBlouw didn’t drive to the net earlier in the game he paid the price, receiving a serious glare from Anastos. After the goal, Anastos embraced a smiling DeBlouw on the bench.
“In that situation, he goes to the net, just like we work on, and it goes in. I just wanted to acknowledge that he did the right thing and he got rewarded for it,” Anastos said.
“He just said ‘what have I been telling you for the past couple weeks,’” echoed DeBlouw, who now has five goals on the season.
The defense was also a shining star for the Spartans. Hildebrand turned aside 29 shots and the penalty kill was stellar despite giving up one goal.
“After we gave up that first one, I think we made a couple of adjustments and throughout the rest of the night the guys were in shooting lanes,” said Hildebrand, whose sister was also in attendance. “We didn’t give up too many passes through the box and that’s huge for me.”
The Spartans were faced with two big penalty kills, one in each of the last two periods.
In the second period, after a pair of roughing after the whistle minors to DeBlouw and Dexter Dancs, Ron Boyd took a hooking penalty to give the Wolverines an extended 4-on-3 power play. With courageous shot blocking by the defense, the Spartans killed it off, which swung momentum back in Michigan State’s favor for most of the remainder of the game.
“That 4-on-3 was a huge kill,” Anastos said. “Walsh, Cox, Ebbing, Draeger, all those guys were blocking shots. The penalty kill, while we gave up a goal, really stepped up when we needed it.”
The penalty kill came up just as big late in the third period after Mackenzie MacEachern went off for hooking with 3:23 remaining on the clock. More sacrifices by the defense kept held the Wolverines’ potent power play, which came into the game averaging just under 25 percent.
“They did a good job of keeping us on the outside,” said Michigan forward J.T. Compher. “We didn’t get to those dirty areas and they were able to get the puck out of the zone. It was pretty much one and done, not enough second chances.”
Villiam Haag broke the ice for the Spartans as he deflected a pass from Joe Cox over the glove of Zach Nagelvoort, who made 26 saves for the Wolverines. The goal was Haag’s fifth of the season and third in his last five games.
“I thought I could almost go for a breakaway and then I heard [Cox] screaming up the left and we saw that we were coming two against one.” Haag said. “To score, you have to drive to the net. I was going and [received] an amazing pass from Cox so I could just tip it in.”
The Spartans had the first period under control until another bench minor for too many men.
Freshman, and Detroit Red Wings draft pick, Dylan Larkin tied the game in the latter half of the penalty as he gloved down a pass from Zach Hyman and beat a screened Hildebrand to the blocker side. Larkin now has 18 points in his last eight games and Hyman has 19 points in that same span.
The goal snapped a streak that saw Michigan State kill 21-straight penalties over the course of seven full games.
“I was really mad, I’m still mad at [the penalty], you had to bring that up,” Anastos joked. “But I thought our response was good. I thought we responded in a positive way.”
Going into Friday night’s contest, Michigan had averaged 4.36 goals per game, the highest average in the country. The Wolverines had also scored a combined 34 goals in their last five games, but the Spartans only yielded one goal, which ties a season low for Michigan.
“We’ve had it pretty easy the last few games and the puck has gone our way,” Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. “It didn’t tonight. Give them credit. They came in here and played a good game and we didn’t play well enough.”
With the win, the Spartans are temporarily tied with Penn State for second in the Big Ten with 16 points, five ahead of Minnesota and five behind Michigan. This makes next week’s matchup at Soldier Field even more important, but the team can enjoy the big win for a little while.
“It was one of the greatest team victories that I’ve been a part of, especially with all the fans there, just a packed Joe Louis,” DeBlouw said. “Growing up, you dream of having those opportunities and today was definitely one of those moments.”
Brian Bobal is the co-host of Behind the Mask for Impact Sports
Photo: Brian Bobal/Impact Sports