Friday night at Munn Ice Arena in its Big Ten opener against No. 8 Notre Dame (6-4-1, 3-2 Big Ten), Michigan State Hockey (4-5, 0-1 Big Ten) fell 3-1 despite a strong third period push.
The Spartans’ effort on the night was epitomized in the final minute of the first by MSU senior defenseman Zach Osburn’s shot getting through Notre Dame goaltender Cale Morris, only to trickle and stick to the post and eventually be recovered by Morris.
Though scoring chances were nearly equal — the Spartans even led in shots at 28-21 — the Irish got the bounces where MSU did not.
“It was a good hockey game,” MSU coach Danton Cole said postgame. “If we had been on the other end, it would've been a great hockey game. (If you) give us one bounce and take one away from them.”
That was exemplified two minutes into the game, as Notre Dame defenseman Bobby Nardella’s shot took an unorthodox bounce off Irish forward Joe Wegwerth’s shoulder. The puck bounced in front of Wegwerth who backhanded the rebound past Spartan goaltender Drew DeRidder to put the Irish up 1-0.
The Spartans were unable to capitalize on a power play from a hooking penalty by left forward Graham Slaggert, and committed two penalties of their own in the first period, one of which, an interference call on freshman defenseman Dennis Cesana, which cut the MSU power play short.
Later came Osburn’s near-goal, as the score at the first intermission remained 1-0 in favor of the Irish. MSU outshot Notre Dame 11 to eight in the opening period.
Play stagnated until midway through the second, as the Irish netted the first quality chance of the period.
Just over the 12 minute mark in the period, MSU Junior center Sam Saliba committed a costly turnover in the neutral zone, allowing Notre Dame center Cam Burke to send a shot through the legs of DeRidder on a breakaway.
“We turned it over on the way in, which was a stress point with us. You can't do that,” Cole said. “It ends up in a breakaway and that's the game-winning goal. A little bit of it's shooting yourself in the foot, but if a guy executes that much of a game plan and do that well then you give him a bump and your tip your hat at the other team and you come back and battle again the next night.”
The Spartans would again fail to capitalize on a Notre Dame penalty for too many men on the ice a minute later. MSU would not score despite outshooting Notre Dame nine to seven in the second period.
It wasn’t until a little over 10 minutes remained in the final period for MSU to show signs of life.
As the puck remained loose at the right hash, junior forward Patrick Khodorenko fired a quick slapshot past Morris and into the back of the net.
“Just the way they play with three guys across the blue line, it's tough to carry the puck into the zone and play,” Khodorenko said. “You got to loosen them up by dumping it in, and we've got to take advantage of trying to beat them to the pucks in the corners. But I think in the first (period) we just weren't fast enough, but in the third I thought we really got it going.”
MSU would not see a better opportunity until a holding penalty on Notre Dame forward Alex Steeves essentially allowed the Spartans to spend the final two minutes with a man advantage.
Khodorenko shot once more, this time from the left hash. His slapshot rattled the iron of the right post with just under two minutes remaining.
The Spartans’ empty net with under a minute remaining allowed Slaggert to seal the victory for Notre Dame with a third goal in the final seconds.
“I'm bummed out we didn't win but I'm not disappointed in anything our guys did tonight, and we'll figure out a way to score a couple more goals tomorrow,” Cole said.
The Spartans will have an opportunity to avenge the loss when they face the Irish again Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Munn Ice Arena.