Jason’s Journal: Disappointing

The Spartans just did not show up to play on Saturday. That is just the way it was. Whether it was the weeklong interval between games, the bus ride down to Chicago or the 100 minute delay, Michigan State came out flat against their archrival on a big stage with three very important points on the line.

What irks me about this game is not so much the fact that it was a loss, but more of how the Spartans played. The fact that Michigan State came out flat and cracked when the Wolverines applied pressure in the second period is disappointing to say the least, especially when they had a full week to get mentally prepared for the UM onslaught.

Right from the get-go the Spartans looked and played flat, Michigan out-hustled and out-worked Michigan State early and was rewarded by a fluke goal that should have, in all fairness, been picked up by a block (just a side note, MSU registered only 14 blocked shots on the night, with Michigan getting close to 40 shots on net).

On the slow ice, Michigan adjusted their strategy, they made short passes and played an energetic, physical game to compensate for the slow ice. The Spartans, in response, got scared, made bad decisions and attempted to make long stretch passes that they have difficulty executing on good ice, let alone an outdoor rink.

What was most disappointing was the fact that Michigan State offered no response to Michigan’s physical play. The forecheck was a shadow of its former self, guys cracked under heavy UM pressure, and the biggest hit of the game for MSU was Matt Berry running into Michigan goaltender Zach Nagelvoort.

To me, the breaking point of this game was the third goal for Michigan. Yes, the Spartans made sloppy errors in their own zone which led to the second UM goal, but MSU had some chances to turn it around on the power play. However, State’s power play was atrocious, as they were out-worked in the corners and could not get any good zone entry.

As the Wolverine PK expired, Michigan had a break with numbers going the other way. I sat there and said to myself, “If State lets them score on this rush, they don’t deserve to win the game.”

Sure enough, Jake Hildebrand made the initial save, but Michigan captain Andrew Copp got two or three good whacks on Hildebrand and poked the puck in the net.

Why does Copp get to whack your goaltender several times and not get sent to the deck? Copp should have been knocked to the ice long before he poked the puck home. And if State would have gotten a penalty for that, so be it, at least you are sending a message to Michigan and sticking up for your goalie.

Again, when Michigan pushed the play physically, the Spartans offered no push-back, and that is what bothers me.

Michigan State lacks raw skill and talent, but they can win regardless of opponent. When they play an opponent with runaway skill like Michigan, they win when they play physical and smart, typical of a rivalry game. Last Saturday they did neither.

It is disheartening for Spartan fans to have to pay good money for tickets and drive long distances, only to see their team get mentally and physically dominated by the Wolverines.

While some might look at this game and say it is only one loss, that loss was on a very big stage and did a lot of damage to the Spartans. Entering this weekend, Michigan State was tied with Penn State for second in the Big Ten with 16 points. Michigan was in first with 21. Now, the Spartans have dropped to fourth in the conference behind a humming Penn State squad and Minnesota team that may have found its second wind.

To say next weekend’s series against Penn State is huge would be an understatement. Lots A lot of eyes are going to be on Michigan State to see if they can play with the grit, physicality, and determination to challenge the Nittany Lions. It will not be easy, as Penn State brings all three of those qualities to the table. Simply put, the Spartans need to find the mental edge.

(On a personal note, a special shoutout to the A-Team members who made the trek to Chicago when it would have been easier to stay on campus for the weekend. You guys are the epitome of college hockey fans and have my undying respect and admiration).

Jason Ruff is the host of Behind the Mask for Impact Sports

Photo: Brian Bobal/Impact Sports