Grim Defeat

There could not have been a more perfect scenario for Michigan State to clinch a bye in the Big Ten tournament. It was senior night, the Wolverines were in town and it was another sold out crowd at Munn.

Michigan had other plans.

Three goals from junior forward, Ryan Keller, was not enough for the Spartans as they fell to the Wolverines 5-3 Friday night.

Michigan’s attack was led by five different goal scorers with three of them coming from freshman.

“They won the out-front battle,” head coach Tom Anastos said. “That’s something that we thought was key to the game and they won it, so they won the game. We had guys standing by open guys who scored. They were standing there. We practiced against that all week long and we didn’t execute it.”

It took Michigan State nearly 12 minutes to get its first shot on goal and by the time it did, the Wolverines had jumped out to a 2-0 lead.

Dexter Dancs cleaned up his third of the season in front to Jake Hildebrand’s left to break the ice for the Wolverines.

The Spartans are now 1-13 when surrendering the first goal this season.

The Michigan lead doubled less than six minutes later thanks to East Lansing native Cutler Martin.

A turnover by Michigan State allowed Martin, a defenseman, to go untouched from the red line in and he beat Jake Hildebrand five-hole for his sixth of the season.

“Slow start, you can’t really blame it on the senior night stuff, we all knew what was coming,” captain Michael Ferrantino said. “It’s about us being more ready and that’s on me, that’s on leadership.”

Before the period ended, the Spartans were able to get one back when Keller buried his ninth of the season after the puck pinballed it’s way to the front of the net.

In the second period, the Spartans would get even on a great individual effort by Keller.

A rolling puck in the Michigan end created a footrace between Keller and the Michigan defenseman. When goalie Zach Nagelvoort saw that Keller was two strides ahead, he skated out to play the puck, but a diving Keller got to the puck first and chipped it behind Nagelvoort to tie the game.

The momentum swings continued as Michigan State got its only power play of the game 16 seconds after Keller’s second goal.

The Spartans would only muster up two shots on the powerplay and momentum swung back to Michigan.

Freshman, and Detroit Red Wings prospect, Dylan Larkin put Michigan back up in the final minutes of the second period, another goal that had Michigan State defenders standing around.

Senior forward, Zach Hyman, fed the puck to Larkin from behind the net and after his initial shot attempt was blocked, the rebound went right back to Larkin, who was uncovered with two Spartans around him, and he buried his 14th of the season.

Early in the third period the Spartans were able to erase a deficit for the second time.

The Spartans charged into the Michigan zone on a 3-on-2. Freshman defenseman, Josh Jacobs, drove to the net and Keller threw the puck towards the crease and it ricocheted off a Michigan stick and under Nagelvoort to complete the hat trick and tie the game at three.

Back and forth they went, but Michigan started tilting the ice in the latter half of the third culminating in the game-winning goal by senior forward, Travis Lynch, with 5:03 to go.

“Our team didn’t give up all night,” Hildebrand said, who made 39 saves in the loss. “We were right there in the end and they got that late goal and it’s tough.”

With Hildebrand pulled, sophomore forward, Tyler Motte, deposited an empty-net goal for his ninth of the season to make it 5-3 and sent the Michigan contingent at Munn into a frenzy.

The win catapults Michigan to the top seed in the Big Ten and the win by Minnesota over Penn State drops Michigan State down to third place.

“For us to battle back I thought showed a lot,” Ferrantino said. “It was one of those things where they won the area in front of the net there tonight. We have to be better than that defensively.”

As hard as it might be, the Spartans need to put the loss behind them and gear up to play at Yost Arena tonight, where the Spartans have not won since November 13, 2009.

“I know it’s an emotional night with the seniors in particular, but we have a big game to play tomorrow,” Anastos said. “We’ve got to take our lessons learned and refocus ourselves.

Michigan is 12-2-0 at home this season and the Spartans are hoping they can replicate what happened on the road against Minnesota not too long ago.

“We’re going to learn from our mistakes,” Keller said, who extended his point streak to seven games. “We can’t hang our heads because once you do that, it’s over. We have to keep our heads up and go to work (Saturday).”

The Spartans need a win to clinch a bye in the first round of the Big Ten playoffs.


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

Photo: Brian Bobal / Impact Sports