On a weekend that saw the Spartans football team ascend to the top of the B1G, the Spartan hockey team hosted the top ranked team in NCAA Hockey. The Minnesota Golden Gophers came to East Lansing already having made their B1G Hockey debut. The Gophers swept rival Wisconsin to retain the top spot in the national rankings, a spot they have held since the second week of the season. With the Spartans one weekend removed from an embarrassing sweep at the hands of Western Michigan, the Spartans B1G debut had the possibility of being a nightmare.
The Spartans instead displayed two inspired efforts for the Munn Arena faithful in a series split, and brought some excitement back to their inaugural season in the B1G. The Spartans defeated the Gophers 3-2 in a shootout win Friday (treated as a tie nationally), and lost a close game 3-2 Saturday. The Spartans held the Gophers to under their 4.14 goals per game average both nights, due in large part to the play of goaltender Jake Hildebrand. The freshman line of Villiam Haag, Thomas Ebbing and Mackenzie MacEachern continued to be an offensive threat, and the Spartans played with an effort that has been customary throughout the first two seasons of Tom Anastos' tenure. This team has made visible growth since back-to-back sweeps at the hands of Michigan Tech and Western Michigan.
There is a long ways to go for this team to compete with the likes of Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota for the B1G Championship. However, unlike a few weeks ago it looks possible that these Spartans will be competitive every weekend, and may rank above Penn State and Ohio State in the 2nd tier of the league.
Friday 2-2 Tie (1-0 in shootout)
The Spartans went back and forth with the Gophers in the opening period, as play was constant and whistles were light. The Spartans outshot the Gophers 15-14 but surrendered a late goal to freshman Taylor Cammarata. Watching the Spartans play on Friday night it was clear they had put a lot of emotion into the B1G opener. This was evident when MacEachern scored his 6th goal of the season at 1:02 of the second period. Haag pounced on a turnover by a Gopher defenseman and fed a streaking Maceachern in the neutral zone for a breakaway on Gopher goaltender Adam Wilcox. MacEachern lifted a backhand shot over Wilcox's glove, and was mobbed by his teammates.
The Spartans made it through the second period on the shoulders of Hildebrand. They were outshot 15-4 in the period, and killed an entire two minute minor penalty without the puck once leaving the defensive zone. The Gophers regained the lead early in the third period, on a power play goal by Justin Kloos. Once again the Spartans' freshman class responded, as Haag tipped a pass from Lee Reimer under a sprawling Wilcox to tie the game. The third period and overtime continued to feature back and forth play, including a shot by Gopher Kyle Rau that rang off the post in overtime. The Spartans Michael Ferrantino scored in the first round of the shootout to give the Spartans the early lead. The first two Gophers were unsuccesful in the shootout, as were the next two Spartan shooters. After Hildebrand had stopped the final Gopher shooter the Spartans celebrated as if they had just won the B1G title. It was a great scene as Hildebrand celebrated with the student section and was surrounded by his teammates, rushing towards him from the bench.
Spartan Hockey ties top ranked Gophers, win shootout. (via MSUSpartanAthletics)
Saturday 3-2 Loss
I don't know if it was the strange start time (4 P.M.) or too much emotion expelled the night before, but something made the Spartans start slow on Saturday afternoon.The Gophers dominated play, outshooting the Spartans 17-3, and led 2-0 after the first period of play. After defenseman Mike Reilly scored at 6:05 of the second period it appeared the rout was on. However, the Spartans showed great resolve in picking up their play and clawing their way back into the game. The Spartans earned three power plays in a row, with the third Gopher penalty leading to a Spartan goal. With just under five minutes remaining in the second Villiam Haag ripped home a one timer, on a great centering feed from Dean Chelios. The Spartans played to the very end, scoring a goal with 0.1 seconds remaining, but were done in by their slow start. And so the Honeycrisp trophy has gone back to our friends at The Daily Gopher, up for grabs again when the Spartan basketball team plays the Gophers on January 11.
Now, lets take a look back at my three keys for MSU's success this weekend:
- Slow Down The Game- The smaller ice surface did its job as the Gophers talked about how it affected their play after Friday night's defeat. The Spartans seemed to go up and down the ice with the Gophers pretty well, and the weekend featured many long stretches of play without a whistle. Outside of the second period Friday and the first period Saturday, the Spartans matched wits with the Gophers.
- Win The 1st Period- The Spartans were the first team not to lose to the Gophers when they lead after one, after winning in a shootout Friday. The Spartans were dominated in the first period on Saturday being outshot 17-3 and outscored 2-0. The first period included 15 blocked shots by MSU position players. When you are blocking that many shots it is often indicative of how little you are possessing the puck.
- Discipline- The Spartans did well in this category, taking only three penalties Friday and four on Saturday. However, the Spartan penalty kill once again struggled surrendering a power play goal in each game.
Around the B1G: Michigan lost to the US National Under 18 team on Thursday 5-4 in an exhibition and will play Ferris State on Wednesday Dec. 11th. Wisconsin swept Penn State 7-1, 4-3. Ohio State had the weekend off. The Spartans currently sit 4th in the standings with 2 pts, ahead of PSU and OSU, while the Gophers lead the league with 10 pts.
Next Up: The Spartans will host the Ferris State Bulldogs for one game on Saturday, December 14. The Bulldogs are the nations hottest team, unbeaten in 13 straight games and ranked 6th nationally.