The return of junior forward and last season’s leading scorer Matt Berry and sophomore defenseman John Draeger was spoiled Friday night with a 2-0 loss to in-state rival Western Michigan Broncos.
MSU dropped the first of a two-game home-and-home series at Munn Ice Arena Friday night, with the Broncos shutting out the Spartans, 2-0. Head coach Tom Anastos felt MSU failed to take advantage of early opportunities in the first period, which changed the complexion of the game.
“(I) Thought we played a pretty good first period, thought we got out of rhythm in the second with all of the penalties and when they got ahead, it was kind of a different game for them to play,” Anastos said. “I thought they did a good job shutting things down defensively and we just couldn’t build any rhythm.”
After more than 30 minutes of scoreless play, WMU broke the tie in the 2nd period with a goal from Bronco sophomore forward Nolan LaPorte at the 13:08 mark. The goal, which was LaPorte’s 4th of the season, was on a two-on-one with assists from sophomore forward Josh Pitt and freshman defenseman Taylor Flemming.
The Broncos added to the score seven minutes into the 3rd period to make it 2-0. On another two-on-one, WMU junior forward Justin Kovacs put the puck behind MSU sophomore goaltender Jake Hildebrand after a smooth pass from senior forward Chase Balisy at the 6:58 mark of the 3rd period.
MSU outshot the Broncos 22-21 in the game, with freshman forward Villiam Haag leading the team with four shots.
MSU ran into penalty trouble in the 2nd period, spending six minutes in the penalty box during a crucial eight minute stretch. While the Spartans didn’t give up a power play goal, Berry said the penalty filled stretch threw off the team’s chemistry and mojo.
“We got to stay out of the box, I think we had three penalties there in the second which really kills your momentum when you’re doing good,” Berry said. “It’s hard to comeback from a penalty kill when the lines get all mixed up and all.”
Redshirt freshman Rhett Holland racked up three penalties on the night for a total of six penalty minutes. Draeger and senior defenseman Jake Chelios each had a two-minute minor penalty.
While the 2nd period penalties hurt the Spartan’s momentum, Anastos was impressed with the team’s penalty kill unit, which finished the night killing all five penalties..
“There were a number of things we saw in the game today that we really thought improved and (penalty kill) was one of them,” Anastos said. “A lot of that has to do with just guys starting to gain experience, starting to get some tandems where guys are starting to work off each other.”
Draeger, along with Berry, played in their first game of the year, and Draeger said he felt good on the ice but made some mistakes that need to be corrected for the team to experience success,
“I thought I was okay, definitely need to improve,” Draeger said. “There were some mistakes I made, well quite a few mistakes in my opinion, that can’t happen. That needs to improve.”
The Spartans will look to avoid their third sweep of the season Saturday night as they travel to Kalamazoo, Mich. to face the Broncos in the second leg of the home-and-home series. Face-off is at 7:05 p.m. at the Lawson Ice Arena.