MSU unable to sustain hot start, lose 3-1 to No. 4 Notre Dame

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EAST LANSING, Mich. — In front of a crowd of 6,392 at Munn Ice Arena, the Michigan State hockey team was unable to find the same success that its basketball team had the night before, eventually losing 3-1 to No. 4 Notre Dame on Friday night.

“Obviously not satisfied or happy with the outcome,” Spartan hockey coach Danton Cole said postgame. “But our guys battled hard and did some things well. We’re going to have to figure out how to be better and a little more consistent as well as find more ways to get a couple more pucks past their goalie.”

It was an uncharacteristic start for college hockey’s No. 4 team. Not only did it not get a shot on goal until roughly the 14 minute mark in the first period, it also gave up the first goal with just 33.4 seconds to go in the first period.

Brennan Sanford made a key play to force a turnover and fired a shot on net that was turned aside by Cale Morris’ left pad. However, the rebound found the stick of Taro Hirose who rocketed a silky smooth backhand that went top shelf on Morris for his sixth goal of the season, putting MSU on top 1-0.

“Sandy [Sanford] went in there good on the forecheck and sort of pinned the d-man,” Hirose said. “Their d-man threw it out to their centerman and he kind of stole the puck and tried to jam it on net. It popped out to me and I was able to stick it in the open net.”

As impressive as the goal was for Michigan State, its defense was just as good if not better. Shutting down passing lanes and not allowing Notre Dame’s offense to have a smooth transition into the offensive zone became a staple of Cole’s strategy in the first 20 minutes. Jake Evans, who has over 100 points in his Irish career and is this nation’s leading scorer, did not record a single shot on net in the period. He had one blocked shot and was a minus one for being on the ice during Hirose’s goal.

“I think the guys did a good job not just in the defensive zone but just skating as well and playing into the puck quite a bit,” Cole said.  “We forechecked well and did a good job in the neutral zone. Our defense’s gaps were really strong. We knew Notre Dame would put a little more pressure on us and get after us a little bit and it settled into a pretty good hockey game.”

Michigan State could have not asked for a better start to this hockey game. But it could have asked for a better second period.

The kryptonite for this MSU hockey team has long been its habit of giving up multiple goals in a short amount of time. That old bug came back to bite the Spartans as they learned how tall of a task it is to hold down a top 15 college hockey offense.

With 8:30 to play in the second period,  Evans was able to break through when, on the back end of a scramble in the crease, tapped a loose puck into the back of the net for his seventh of the season, one that Michigan State would have liked to get back.

The goal came on the heels of a great opportunity from Logan Lambdin, who on a breakaway, was unable to get a shot off as he made an unnecessary deke to try and get around Morris.

Just over one minute later, 1:02 to be exact, the Irish struck again off a tip in the slot from Cal Burke. Michigan State would squander a chance to even the score towards the end of the period as Bo Brauer took a penalty, but nothing in the Spartans’ favor took place in that two minute stretch.

The Spartans seemingly regained their hot start in the third period as they outshot the Irish 12-7. Unfortunately for MSU, Notre Dame’s suffocating defense behind the nation’s third leading goaltender in Morris were able to tire out the Spartan attack.

“They sit back a lot,” freshman forward Mitchell Lewandowski said of Notre Dame’s defense. “They have strong d-men who can all play big minutes and big roles for them. I know we had to dump the puck in more than we wanted to and more than we usually do. Once we started to dump it in and retrieve it we were able to get our offense going but it’s definitely a different style than what we’ve seen.”

Notre Dame successfully put this one away late in the third period when freshman forward Colin Theisen was able to speed around two MSU defenders and beat Lethemon who was playing too deep in his own net.

Moral victories don’t count for much on paper, but the Spartans should walk away from this one with positives in mind. Other than roughly a 10 minute stretch in the second period, Michigan State played hand-in-hand with the best team in the Big Ten. The penalty kill took care of the only Irish opportunity on the night, all while not allowing a shot to a team that has converted on 20.75 percent of its chances with the man advantage.

With the loss, Michigan State falls to 1-5-1-1 in the Big Ten and are at the bottom looking up at the rest of the conference. The Spartans, however, will get another crack at the Irish tomorrow night at 7:05 p.m. from Munn Ice Arena, having a better idea of what it takes to knock off college hockey royalty.

“We have to be good on our breakouts all game. I think tonight we had a couple mental lapses where we were holding onto the puck too long. They gave you that time and space you thought you had and then the next second they were taking it away. So we just need to be clean on our breakouts so that makes our line rushes easier when we go into the zone.