The latest blow to the morale of the Michigan State hockey team came at the hands of No. 8 Michigan Friday night at Munn Arena. The Wolverines exploded for nine goals, handing the Spartans their fifth straight loss and fourteenth on the season in a 9-2 victory.
“Not really sure what to say other than we’re obviously disappointed,” coach Tom Anastos said post-game. “With how the game played out, we didn’t defend well enough, our penalty kill wasn’t good enough, we gave up too many easy goals and we weren’t able to make plays.”
The first ten minutes of play were close between the Spartans and Wolverines. The two teams traded chances but each goaltender stood tall and kept the score tied at zero.
The Spartans were able to strike first as Mason Appleton scored his fourth goal of the season, tying Brennan Sanford for the lead amongst freshmen forwards. Appleton found some open ice just inside the left faceoff circle where he took a pass from John Draeger and sent the puck past Steve Racine.
“It was just a hard pass so I tried to get a lot on it,” Appleton said. “It was a little puck-luck and I guess it found its way in.”
The Wolverines struck back quickly and confidently, scoring three goals in less than two minutes. The first came from JT Compher, who walked into the slot untouched and sent a wrist shot over the blocker of Jake Hildebrand, tying the game at one.
The Compher goal was followed by goals from sophomore Tony Calderone and junior Alex Kile. It was 3-1 Michigan in the blink of an eye, and they weren’t done.
The Spartans were able to get one back on the power play, one of the many places where they have struggled this season. However, Zach Osburn was able to get the Spartans back to within one goal as he let a shot go from the point that flew past Racine. Osburn accompanied his fifth goal of the season with a celebration that mirrored the celebration of Montreal Canadien defenseman P.K. Subban.
That would be it for the Spartans goal scoring in the game, but Michigan still plenty more in them. The 8th ranked Wolverines added two more quick goals from Kyle Connor, who scored his 13th of the season, and Dexter Dancs who got his third.
Six Minutes and five goals, Michigan led 5-2. Any fight the Spartans had left in them was quickly diminishing.
This simply was not Jake Hildebrand’s night. The senior, who stole a number of games for the Spartans in his career, gave up five goals on the night which prompted Anastos to pull him in favor of sophomore Ed Minney.
“That wasn’t all him,” captain Michael Ferrantino said, defending his goaltender. “There were pucks going in off shin pads and through three guys’ feet and all of sudden finding its way in. That’s just one of those games the puck doesn’t hit you.”
The Wolverines added two more goals in the second period, giving them a 7-2 lead after 40 minutes of play. Zach Werenski, who took some time away from the Wolverines to play with the United States in the World Junior Championships, didn’t miss a step in scoring his fifth goal of the season. Assists on the Werenski goal came from Alex Kile and Justin Selman.
The second Wolverine goal of the period came from Connor, who recorded his second of the night and fourteenth of the season.
Throughout the game, the majority of the Wolverine goals came from the same spot. The Wolverine player, whoever felt like scoring a goal in that particular moment, walked right in between the faceoff circles virtually untouched. He then waited for the puck and went top-shelf on the MSU goaltenders.
“We didn’t defend well, we have to get better,” Anastos said of his team’s defensive struggles. “It’s been a struggle for us. We gotta make better decisions transitioning back, especially against a team that thrives off transition.”
Michigan added two more goals in the third period from junior Tyler Motte and Compher once again to end the dominating performance. The Wolverines would walk out of Munn Arena with an impressive 9-2 win over the Spartans.
One of the hidden gems in the game of hockey is the fact that there are so many quick turn arounds. Players and coaches don’t have time to dwell on losses and feel sorry for themselves because there may be a game just one or two days away that they have to prepare for. As tough as tonight’s loss was on the Spartans, forgetting what happened will be a huge key in rebounding tomorrow in Ann Arbor.
“We just gotta look past it and live on a short memory.” Ferrantino said. “This is a resilient group and I don’t think there is going to be one ounce of quit, there’s not gonna be anyone feeling sorry for themselves. We’re gonna regroup and we’re just gonna keep fighting.”
The Spartans will take on the Wolverines in game two of the weekend series tomorrow night at Yost Arena. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.