Men’s Hockey Stayin’ Alive

After one of the toughest losses of the season Thursday night, the Spartans bounced back with a dominant and convincing 4-2 win to earn a split at Minnesota and keep their hopes for a bye in the Big Ten Tournament alive.

Heading into Thursday’s game, the Spartans had a stroke of good luck, as Minnesota’s starting goaltender, Adam Wilcox, was sidelined with an illness. However, Michigan State was also without freshmen Dylan Pavelek and Carson Gatt, who were suspended by Tom Anastos for violating team rules the previous weekend.

The Spartans exploded out of the gate with three goals in the first 11 minutes of the game to take a 3-0 lead, including two from Joe Cox and one from Brent Darnell. Despite giving up the first three goals, the Gophers outshot Michigan State 13-5 in the first period and cut into the deficit on Travis Boyd’s team-leading 16th goal of the season.

The rest of the game, the ice was tilted toward Spartan goaltender Jake Hildebrand.

Three Gopher goals in the second period erased Michigan State’s lead and put Minnesota in firm control of the game. Down 4-3, the Spartans were unable to get past goaltender Nick Lehr, and an empty-net goal salted away another missed opportunity for Michigan State.

It was the first time since the second game of the season that Michigan State lost a game in which it had scored at least three goals.

The 5-3 win put Minnesota five points up on Michigan State for first place in the Big Ten.

Things did not look much better for Michigan State heading into the next game. Wilcox was back in net for Minnesota on Friday night, and the Spartans lost defenseman Travis Walsh as well.

Michigan State was not phased once the puck dropped, and was intent on not leaving three points on the table this time.

The Spartans again controlled the play in the first period, but had nothing to show for it despite outshooting the Gophers 14-7.

Just 44 seconds into the second period, John Draeger took a pass in front of the net and slid the puck five-hole on Wilcox for his first goal of the season. Draeger’s tally was his first since October 27, 2012 against Lake Superior State, ending an 83-game goalless drought.

The lead held for four minutes until Kyle Rau tied the game with his 14th of the season.

The teams played back-and-forth hockey for much of the rest of the period before the Spartans retook the lead courtesy of Ryan Keller.

Keller took a shot from inside the left faceoff circle that squeaked through Wilcox and to the back of the net for his seventh goal of the year.

After two periods, the Spartans were outshooting Minnesota 27-16, a complete reversal from the night before.

Captain Michael Ferrantino doubled the lead for Michigan State close to midway through the period, as he collected a big rebound by Wilcox in the slot off a high shot by Keller to make it 3-1. It was Ferrantino’s first goal in nine games.

Minnesota cut the deficit in half with 4:24 left on a power-play goal by Rau with freshman Josh Jacobs sitting in the penalty box.

The siege began and Minnesota was knocking on the door, but Hildebrand and the Spartan defense would not break.

Michigan State caught a big break when Hudson Fasching took a roughing penalty with 1:52 in the game to give the Spartans their first power play of the night.

Rather than killing off the remaining time, the Spartans went for the dagger and Thomas Ebbing poked home a loose puck to increase the lead to 4-2 in the final minute.

The Spartan bench erupted. The game was out of reach and the Spartans knew they would leave Minnesota with three points. The final horn sounded and the 4-2 win drew the Spartans to within two points of both Minnesota and Michigan, although Michigan has another game against Wisconsin on Saturday at Yost.

It was the first time the Spartans have won in regulation at Mariucci Arena under Anastos, and the first time since November 26, 2010, when Michigan State beat the Gophers 5-2 in what turned out to be the final College Hockey Showcase.

With four games left, the Spartans still have a solid chance of earning one of the top two seeds in the conference heading into the playoffs. Their fate is now in their hands.


Brian Bobal is the co-host of Behind the Mask for Impact Sports

Photo: Brian Bobal/Impact Sports