Michigan State hockey (11-15-5, 7-10-4 Big Ten) earned three points against Penn State (16-11-2, 8-10-1 Big Ten) in a win due mostly to contributors that were perhaps unexpected by the even the Spartans themselves Friday night.
Junior goaltender John Lethemon took over the starting role in what would’ve been freshman goalie Drew DeRidder’s seventh consecutive start. Despite allowing 10 total goals against Michigan last weekend, DeRidder stepped up in key moments and kept the Spartans in contention throughout, as his performance did not give way to an obvious lineup change ahead of Friday’s matchup.
“(Lethemon) had won three games in a row and lost one," MSU coach Danton Cole said. "And then Drew came in and Drew had a nice run there and played four really good games. (Lethemon) had won the last time he played against Penn state and really battled and he's been really good in practice. It's one of those things where we’re saying, 'Hey, let's give him a shot. He's earned it. He's a junior. He's won a lot of games for us.’ John Lethemon is 8-8 for us right now and that's pretty good. So he earned it.”
The junior validated Cole’s decision, stopping 44 shots for a career-high.
Secondary scoring, fourth line production
The Spartans’ top line recorded just one point in a game where MSU netted 5 total goals, as secondary scoring prevailed as the key for the home team.
“The young guys - with (Austin) Kamer, (Jake Smith), and (Adam) Goodsir - they gave us some good minutes tonight and played hard,” Cole said. “We've been kind of stuck lately where, when we were playing well we were getting four lines. And last weekend and we didn't get that. That just helps us out a lot. We can play with a lot more pace. Both those lines did a great job.”
Sophomore forward Austin Kamer arguably had his best game as a Spartan, scoring his second goal of the season while also recording an assist en route to being named the first star of the night; his goal gave MSU an early 2-1 lead.
Goals continued to come from unorthodox sources as sophomore defenseman Tommy Miller rifled the game-winner from the point early in the second period to establish the 3-1 lead. The fourth line would continue to convert on quality chances for MSU when freshman forward Adam Goodsir capitalized on a rebound. Continued offensive zone pressure led to senior wing Brennan Sanford to capitalize on a loose puck in the slot and extend the lead to 5-1.
The race for home ice
This Spartans did what it has done time and time again this season, bouncing back from a disappointing weekend to take its opponent by storm and secure a must-win game. A loss Saturday would have diminished any prospects of securing home ice advantage in the Big Ten tournament, especially as fourth place Minnesota defeated Ohio State 4-3 Friday.
“It gives us a chance,” Cole said about the win. “If we don't get this today, it would've been really hard. It keeps us in the mix, but confidence wise, I think this is an interesting group. I liked that they were mad and disappointed last weekend, but I never got the feeling that they didn't think we were still a pretty good hockey team.”
The Spartans have now jumped Penn State for 5th place, as a win in game two of this weekend could give MSU 30 conference points and a potential home ice standing going in to the final weekend.
The Spartans will look to record consecutive wins for the first time since Jan. 20 as they rematch Penn State Saturday at 7 p.m. at Munn Ice Arena.