Following a 3-1 loss to the No. 4 Notre Dame on Friday, Michigan State was back to Munn Ice Arena Saturday for the second leg of a back-to-back. Despite a very good effort, the Spartans were ultimately unsuccessful in redeeming their loss from Friday, losing 2-0.
“Our guys played a really good hockey team to a one goal game,” Spartan coach Danton Cole said. “You could say it was a shutout, but if it’s 10-9 or 1-0 you still have to play good hockey. We will take an awful lot of good out of it and we will learn and move on. The only time you lose is when you lose a lesson and we just ran out of time tonight.”
Notre Dame grabbed the game’s first goal when John Lethemon made a save off of a long shot but it deflected right to the stick of Colin Theisen, who was sitting right in front of Lethemon. Theisen gathered the puck and pushed it across the crease to Andrew Oglevie who shot it into a completely unattended net to give the Fighting Irish the only goal of the period.
The Spartans were outshot 13-7 in the first period, but that statistic does not tell the entire story. Yes, the Fighting Irish created a lot of pressure, but the Spartans also had some stretches where they were able to sustain some serious offensive opportunities. There was not a ton of back and forth action and more of each team taking turns dominating the puck in their own zones. There were several times where I looked up to the scoreboard to see if I had missed a penalty and one of the teams was on a powerplay, but that was not the case.
One of the Spartans best opportunities in the first period came when a puck was fired from the corner right in front of the Notre Dame net. Fighting Irish goaltender Cale Morris was completely out of position and it came right to the stick of Taro Hirose sitting wide open in front of the net, but Hirose fired it way high.
The second period went scoreless and was absent of any really strong scoring chances. The Spartans were able to slightly shrink the shot disparity and after the period the shot total was 18-13 Notre Dame. With 2:03 remaining in the period, the Fighting Irish were rewarded the first powerplay of the night. The Spartan penalty kill proved strong and only allowed one shot. A lot of the credit goes to freshman Austin Kamer. Kamer got smoked with a shot from the point with about 40 seconds to go on the powerplay. He immediately dropped to the ice in pain. However, he got back up and showed heart by fighting through for the rest of his shift despite being in obvious pain. The Spartan bench was clearly inspired by the effort of the freshman and were slamming their sticks on the boards in support of their teammate.
“We had a couple of guys go down, guys had to step up,” defenseman Carson Gatt said. “We were playing with 11 forwards, we were blocking shots and killing penalties in the last two minutes of the period. Hats off to the guys and everyone on the team, they really battled hard today and it was a great team effort.”
Michigan State fought hard in the third period as well, but it was much the same as the first two periods. The Spartans pulled Lethemon in the final minutes to try and equalize, however their efforts were unsuccessful and the Fighting Irish scored an empty net goal with 14 seconds to clinch the game.
Michigan State created pressure and had opportunities all night but just could not get the puck in the net. Notre Dame outshot the Spartans 29-23 on the night, but after after being outshot by six in the first period, the two teams had the same amount of shots for the remainder of the game.
Even though the Spartans were shut out, there were definitely some positives to take away. First of all, they were playing one of the best goaltenders in the country in Cale Morris. Morris has a save percentage of .953 and is incredibly hard to score on. Secondly, the Spartans got great goaltending play out of Lethemon, who only allowed one goal to a top five team in the country. In addition, the Spartans took only one penalty and showed good signs on the breakout, among other things.
“Anytime you don’t score any goals, it is kind of frustrating,” Gatt said. “But we had our chances. I thought that we played a really strong game, maybe that first shift we would like to have that back but we battled hard.”
Cole agreed with Gatt that the team had a strong performance despite the result.
“There are tons of good things we can take out of this,” Cole said. “We made some adjustments in game that helped, we had some guys who really stepped up. I think there is plenty there.”
The Spartans next game will be Dec. 7 against in-state Michigan at Yost for a 7:05 p.m. puck drop.