Spartans Search For Stability After Tie With Penn State

Spartans+Search+For+Stability+After+Tie+With+Penn+State

Consistency has been the main issue for coach Tom Anastos as he and his Michigan State hockey team (7-20-3 OVR, 3-10-1-0 B1G) battle through a tough season. Friday night, the Spartans came out completely flat as they watched Penn State (18-8-4 OVR, 8-5-1-1 B1G) cruise to a 6-1 victory. The following night at Munn was a different story as the two Big Ten rivals fought to a 2-2 tie, with the Nittany Lions getting the extra point in a shootout.

“We didn’t expect that coming into the season,” Anastos said on the Spartans’ lack of uniformity. “We thought that if there was one thing we could expect, it’s that we would have guys bringing it every night. I thought guys have done that the past couple of years both during highs and lows. So that’s been a surprise and an area of frustration.”

After the first game, Anastos questioned his team’s intensity, saying they were unable to match that of Penn State. That wasn’t the case in the rematch, as MSU came out with a huge burst of speed. The Spartans were set on not being outplayed for a second night in a row and even outshot the Nittany Lions 12-11 through 20 minutes of play.

“Tonight, I thought that up and down the line-up we didn’t have a lot of penalty situations to deal with,” Anastos said. “But I liked the energy, I liked the focus, I liked the emotion, and I liked the complete level of our team. I thought our execution was way better too.”

Despite playing with the energetic Penn State offense as best as they could, an unfortunate stroke of luck hit the Spartans not even three minutes into the game. Nittany Lion forward Eric Scheid, who has dominated MSU this season with four goals, took a shot from near the right boards that somehow went over the shoulder of Jake Hildebrand giving PSU the early lead.

Down a goal, the Spartans continued the fight and created a few chances of their own. The best chance came from freshman defenseman Zach Osburn with 5:44 to play in the first. Osburn was able to walk right in on net and rip a shot on the Penn State goal, but junior goaltender Eamon McAdam made the save to preserve the 1-0 lead for his team.

MSU pulled away from the Nittany Lions both on the shot chart and the scoreboard in the second period. The Spartans doubled Penn State’s shots on net with 14 of their own to only six for the Nittany Lions.

The hero of the Duel in the D game against Michigan, Matt Deblouw, tied the game at one for MSU not even three minutes into the second. Defenseman Rhett Holland patiently walked around the Penn State defenseman and sent a pass down low to JT Stenglein, who passed to DeBlouw who completed the tic-tac-toe tying goal.

The power play has been the thorn in the side of the Spartans all season long. They have only scored on 16 of 115 chances, which adds up to an abysmal 13.91% conversion rate, ranking 44th in the nation. It looked as though the Spartans were going to put up another goose egg on the power play as they had not scored on the two previous man advantages.

But the Spartans’ power play was not to be denied a fourth time. With 13:19 to play in the game, Penn State was forced to kill a penalty when they were caught with too many men on the ice.

That was when senior captain Michael Ferrantino scored his seventh goal of the season to propel the Spartans to a 2-1 lead. Ferrantino, who was pushed around and beat up all series long by Penn State, celebrated vigorously after his goal.

“It’s been an emotional few months here and I’ve been fighting it a bit trying to get things going so that one felt pretty good. Just a lot of emotion coming out for sure.”

Down 2-1, Penn State pushed back at the Spartans in the third period hoping to tie the game. MSU was able to hold down the PSU attack for the majority of the third period with blocked shot after blocked shot. Key blocks in the period came from Ferrantino and Joe Cox, who weren’t happy with the Spartans’ effort level the night before and pushed their team to do better.

But the seventh-best offense in the nation can only be held down for so long. With 6:30 to play in the third period, MSU defenseman John Draeger took a penalty for interference. Shortly after Draeger took a seat in the box, senior defenseman Luke Juha tied the game up for the Nittany Lions when he was able to pounce on a rebound left for him by Hildebrand.

The Spartans had a chance to take the lead back late in the third period when they found themselves on a 5-on-3 power play. They tried their best to find the open man, who was often Deblouw, to send shots at McAdam. But the senior goalie made some incredible saves to keep the game tied at two. With the missed opportunities behind them, the two teams headed to overtime and eventually a shootout in the final game of the regular season series.

“I must had five or six,” DeBlouw said on his attempts to win the game for the Spartans. “Good play by the goalie. I had a couple rips that I thought were for sure going in but he made the good save.”

Ferrantino, Cox, and Cody Milan all took turns trying to solve McAdam. Ferrantino simply lost the puck in the corner due to the choppy ice. Milan and Cox were stopped by McAdam, who turned in an impressive 34-save performance to accompany his 11th win of the season.

Ricky DeRosa ended up scoring the lone goal in the shootout to give Penn State the consolation prize.

Though this does not technically count as a loss for Michigan State, the mood in the Spartan locker room was one of disappointment, knowing they let this one get away.

“That’s kind of been the story of our year,” Stenglein said. “We always seem to find a way to lose a lead late in the game. That’s something we need to try and fix because if that happens in the Big Ten tournament it could end our season. We have to find a way to close out games when we do have the lead.”