The Michigan State Spartans (2-1-0) took on the U.S. National Team Development Program U-18s (4-5-0) in their final exhibition game at Munn Ice Arena Friday night.
“I like this game. The skill and the speed.That team makes big plays and they transition offensively and defensively really well,” Head Coach Danton Cole said. “A lot of good memories of my time there. I like what they do. ... But, I like winning and it was fun to get a win tonight.”
The first period of the game saw U-18 forward Landon Slaggert snap the puck immediately on the opening face-off.
Within the first 4-minutes of the game, senior defender Butrus Ghafari sees a chance to score for the Spartans, but the puck flew high and was caught in the glove of U-18 goalie Drew Commesso. Not long after, senior forward Patrick Khodorenko attempted a second shot for the Spartans, saved yet again by Commesso.
Fifteen minutes remained when the first penalty of the night was given to junior forward Mitchell Lewandowski for interference, beginning USNTDP’s only power-play opportunity of the period.
The Spartans kept up a good defense against the U-18s as three shots were fired back-to-back on the green and white goal, all saved by sophomore goalie Drew DeRidder.
Nine minutes into the period, the second penalty of the night was given to U-18 forward Zakary Karpa for tripping, beginning MSU’s first of two power-play opportunities in the period. The second coming with penalty on another U-18 forward Brett Berard, also for tripping.
The Spartans utilized these power-plays, attempting as many shots at the USNTDP goal as possible. But, the U-18s upped their defenses and managed to ward MSU off from finding the back of the net. The Spartans were desperate to get on the scoreboard, and with 54.8 seconds left in the first period, they did.
Khodorenko, assisted by sophomore defenders Christian Krygier and Dennis Cesana, not only made the first Spartan goal of the game, but his first goal of the 2019-20 season overall.
The final score for the first period of the game stood at Spartans: 1, U-18s: 0.
The anticipation grew with the start of the second period. And for good reason.
Not even two full minutes into the clock and the first penalty was given to Michigan State redshirt senior forward Jerad Rosburg for charging, beginning the first power-play for the opposing U-18s.
Just as this opportunity was coming to a close, U-18 forward Matthew Beniers was able to score the first goal of the game for his team, tying an even 1-1 at just three minutes and 30 seconds in.
This led into another two minute penalty, this time on the U-18 defender Owen Gallatin for hooking. The Spartans then took their first of two power-plays for the second period.
With 13 minutes left on the clock, DeRiddler made a huge save between his knees against another goal from the U-18s. And with one minute left on the clock, the Spartans dug deep into their opponents, fighting hard by the U-18 net before the buzzer rang.
No goals were managed by the green and white this period, the score still sitting at a tie of Spartans: 1, U-18s: 1.
The exhibition had surely become a nail biter as it entered the third and final period of the night.
Power-plays were an important piece of performance against the USNTDP, the Spartans having gotten six opportunities overall, but running zero for seven with nine shots total.
“When you go through power-play stuff, it never really is too far away from naive,” Cole said. “Move a little quicker, be stronger, get simple.”
The third period was messier than the two previous: U-18 forward Chase Yoder snapped his stick in half and then, in a rough collision, MSU’s senior forward Logan Lambdin was carried off the ice with Rosburg on his left and an athletic trainer on his right.
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Commesso had been holding up the USNTDP goal until then. With 3 minutes remaining, junior forward Gianluca Esteves sneaked the puck under Commesso’s nose in a breakaway and bumped the Spartans into the lead. “Hopefully that gives him some confidence and understanding that he’s in the line-up and he can do a lot of good for us,” Cole said on Esteves' game-winning goal.
A minute later, the U-18 goal was completely empty. And with high hopes, the Spartans shot time after time, coming up with nothing but near misses and blocks.
The Spartans held this lead down to the buzzer, with a close 2-1 win for green and white. This is the sixth consecutive win that Michigan State has taken on the USNTDP U-18.
“I thought that our puck maintenance wasn’t very good going on today. We tried some things and we ended up chasing a little bit, but I thought our guys competed real well. Both teams had chances,” Cole said, in recap of the night’s exhibition. “It’s a good time of year to have this game because we can work through some kinks.”
The Spartans are scheduled to fly out to Colorado College next week on Friday, Oct. 25 and take on the Tigers (1-1-0) for the first time since their fall at the Great Lakes Invitational in 2010.
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