No. 6 Denver sweeps MSU hockey team in home opening series
During a chilly October weekend just a week before Halloween, the MSU hockey team (0-4) hosted No. 6 University of Denver (4-2) as it looked for its first win of the season. While it played two competitive games, the team dropped both matches to the Pioneers, 2-1, 3-1.
Before the game Friday, 5,419 fans filed into Munn Ice Arena as the nearby Izzone campout and A-Team worked together to fill in the student section.
“I loved to see the student section that packed,” senior and captain Joe Cox said. “I thought the atmosphere set up for us was great. I thought it was a good home opener."
The Spartans welcomed back two key experienced blueliners to bolster their defense efforts. Junior Carson Gatt — who was out with an injury — and redshirt-senior Rhett Holland returned to help the home team’s cause.
In game one of the series, MSU came out hitting, landing big shots at the Pioneers and drawing audible "ooh's" and "ahh's" from the fans.
Both teams' defenses and goaltenders stayed true, as the game was scoreless through the first 40 minutes of play. Of note, junior Ed Minney got the start for MSU in the net. Minney played one of the finest games of his career, stopping 24 of 26 shots.
Starting off the third period of the first game, the Pioneers drew first blood. Then, they scored again with a little less than five minutes remaining in the game. Freshman Henrik Borgstrom — a 2016 first-round NHL draft pick — forced his mark on the game with a goal and an assist.
But the Spartans converted on their fourth power play of the night, with freshman Patrick Khodorenko scoring his first collegiate goal. With 1:21 left, the score put the Spartans within one of the Pioneers.
At the end, though, the Spartans were unable to complete the comeback. But the effort and margin were better than the weekend before against Lake Superior State University.
“I think our team got better,” head coach Tom Anastos said. “I think that’s what’s important at this stage of the game. A lot of guys got experience, a lot of freshmen in key situations. A lot of sophomores tonight in key situations.”
While MSU dropped its first game, they had another chance the very next night against the same team.
In the net, Anastos moved freshman John Lethemon to start at goal, despite Minney's solid play from the night before.
"Coming into it, the plan was let's get these (goalies) some experience and see where things kind of shake out," Anastos said.
The first period saw the Spartans even with the Pioneers in the shots on goal department, 9-9, but they weren't able to convert on its chances while Denver did, scoring two in the first period. Sophomore Troy Terry was responsible for both scores.
MSU struggled in the second, as it was only able to muster two shots the entire period even with three power play chances. Lethemon and the Spartan defense, though, kept the opposition from adding to its lead.
The Spartans finally broke through when sophomore Mason Appleton buried a slap-shot past Tanner Jaillet for his first goal of the season. He earned one of the stars after the game for his efforts in the match.
Just like the night before, MSU tried to rally back from a 2-1 deficit late with an empty net. But the comeback effort fell short again, this time with Denver getting the empty net goal to seal it.
With a final score of 3-1, the Spartans were swept in the weekend series. While the scoring margin didn't favor the Spartans, there were moral victories that could be taken with competing with a top-10 team in the country.
"We know we can compete with them," Holland said. "There's a lot of people out there doubting us. I think we just proved to ourselves that it doesn't matter who we're playing against, we can compete against anyone in this league."
The team will be back in action Oct. 28 when it faces Princeton University. The game is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. and will be played at Munn.