The Jekyll and Hyde Michigan State ice hockey unit (10-13-4, 6-8-3 Big Ten) dominated Wisconsin (9-12-4, 5-6-4 Big Ten) Friday night at Munn Ice Arena, commanding a 4-1 victory over the Badgers.
Sharing the last-place spot in the conference with Penn State and Wisconsin, MSU earned a crucial three points in the standings.
Freshman Drew DeRidder earned a second consecutive start in net for the Spartans, taking over for junior John Lethemon midway through the recent road trip to Notre Dame. DeRidder was impressive in goal, even with Wisconsin's opportunities coming far and few between, saving 28 shots.
"It's a good problem to have," coach Danton Cole said of his goaltending situation. "And to quote my buddy Dave Starman, 'The best way to have a good number one is have a good number two.' And like I said, those guys have to keep getting better. Just like our team though."
Junior wing Taro Hirose recorded his ninth three-point game of the season with a goal and two assists.
MSU outshot Wisconsin 10-7 amidst an opening period seemingly dominated by ill-advised Spartan penalties.
Matthew Freytag crashed the net on a rebound and jabbed at DeRidder, inciting Hirose to take an uncharacteristic crosschecking penalty after the whistle. Fortunately for MSU, Tyler Inamoto was called for embellishment, setting up a 4-on-4 in the final minutes of the period.
Just as the double penalties were about to expire, junior center Patrick Khodorenko gained possession deep in the Wisconsin zone. His spinning backhanded goal would put MSU ahead 1-0.
In the closing moments of the first, sophomore center Tommy Apap committed a taxing hooking penalty with just two seconds remaining.
The Spartans would end the period up 1-0 and into the second on the penalty kill.
After successfully fending off Wisconsin’s power play unit, MSU would find a sprinting Apap out of the box. Hirose would feed the sophomore who, with his back to the net, threaded a shot between his legs as he nearly put the Spartans up 2-0.
Recently breaking a streak of allowing a power play goal in 16 consecutive games, the Spartans successfully killed all four penalties on the night.
"Obviously Friday night and at Notre Dame (the penalty kill) wasn't very good, but coach Exter did a good job in tightening some things up, and I think we've been making progress," Cole said. "Drew Miller always talks about those little cheats that you have to do on the backside. You've got to already be moving to where that puck's going and I think we've done that a little better. Our clears have been better... But, I thought it was excellent Saturday night against Notre Dame and I thought it was outstanding tonight."
Minutes later, the infamous KHL line would flex its muscle like it has so many times this season.
Hirose weaved through the slot and dropped a pass between his legs to sophomore wing Mitchell Lewandowski. He quickly found Khodorenko for his second goal, putting MSU in command with a two-goal lead early in the second.
"That second one that Pat (Khodorenko) scored - that tic-tac-toe, we sort of all looked at each other and we weren't really sure what happened," Hirose said. "It's just sort of one of the things where you get open, and Pat scores there. We were just skating tonight and just trying to find open spaces and getting a lot of speed off the rush to create chances."
The Hirose-Lewandowski pairing would continue throughout the period. Hirose, looking to shoot into traffic, found Lewandowski’s lofted blade, sending a deflection past Daniel Lebedeff, and giving the Spartans a 3-0 lead midway through the second.
MSU continued to apply pressure, as Khodorenko shot and grazed the crossbar, nearly netting a hat trick.
"There's seeing a play and then there's having the confidence to make the play, and those decisions, they're making them before the puck gets on their stick," Cole said of his top line. "They're already thinking that 'I'm passing through that seam over there to the next guy.' And I think what they do really well, obviously they pass and shoot well, but they move without the puck... It's fun to watch and then you throw their skill and their compete level into it and it's a tough thing to defend."
With under two minutes remaining in the second, Wisconsin would capitalize through traffic in front of DeRidder. Ty Emberson followed a rebound and muscled in the Badgers’ first goal, as the contest would head to the third at 3-1.
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The Spartans would control the puck for the majority of the final period.
Wisconsin would threaten early, when Sean Dhooghe rifled a one-timer that rattled the iron behind DeRidder.
With just over eight minutes remaining, MSU would go on its fifth power play of the game. The Spartans were able to retain significant possession well past the man advantage, extending the 3-1 lead into the final minutes.
As the Badgers were forced to pull Lebedeff with over two minutes to play, Hirose would net a goal himself to all but seal the victory. The final score would hold at 4-1.
MSU will look to complete a decisive sweep of the Badgers on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at Munn Ice Arena.
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