Back in the rankings after sweeping Wisconsin last weekend, No. 18 Michigan State (8-8-1) kicked off the front-end of a two game series against No. 16 Arizona State (9-4-2) Saturday night. The game marked the first time that Munn Ice Arena hosted a top-20 matchup since February 10, 2012, when No. 17 MSU upset No. 4 Michigan.
The Spartans were able to make a game out of a slow start, battling all the way back to tie things up midway through the third period, but ultimately fell to the Sun Devils 4-3. The green and white outshot ASU 35-26, but couldn’t get the timely goal with a 6-on-4 man advantage as time dwindled down in the third period.
“It was a good battle,” Head Coach Danton Cole said. “They had the jump on us early and then we got it going a little bit and realized how hard we were going to have to work ... I liked the way the guys battled and re-grouped and kept coming in the third, but that’s why you got to play 60 minutes hard.”
Arizona State looked like the more complete team in the first period. Outshooting the Spartans 8-5 after twenty minutes of play, they would crack the scoring open just over seven minutes into the game. ASU forward P.J. Marrocco brought the puck in through the left side of the offensive zone, creating a 2-on-1 opportunity with sophomore defenseman Christian Krygier being the lone Spartan back on the play.
Krygier dove back towards the net to try and prevent a pass through the slot, allowing senior goaltender John Lethemon to just focus on Marrocco. Marrocco attempted the pass anyway, and the puck hit the diving Krygier and redirected into the net to put the Sun Devils up 1-0.
With just 3:20 remaining in the first, Arizona State would add on to their lead. ASU forward Dominic Garcia handled the puck in the corner of the offensive zone and, after facing pressure from the Spartan defense, slid a pass to teammate James Sanchez in the slot. With a clear look at the net, Sanchez fired one past Lethemon to put the visiting team up 2-0 heading to the locker room after the opening period of play.
The green and white came out with a better sense of urgency in the second period. Putting more of an emphasis on shooting the puck and generating quality scoring chances, they would finally squeak one past ASU goaltender Evan Debrouwer with 8:41 remaining. Junior forward Brody Stevens led the charge into the middle of the offensive zone, with sophomore defenseman Dennis Cesana on his right and junior captain Tommy Apap on his left.
Stevens fed a pass to Cesana, who quickly shot the puck on net. The puck trickled by Debrouwer and just sat still on the crease. Apap crashed the net and was there in time to put home his fourth goal of the season to cut the deficit in half and give the Spartans some much needed momentum.
That momentum proved to be short-lived. Just over a minute later, Arizona State would get one right back. The Sun Devils won the faceoff in their offensive zone, and the puck came directly back to defenseman Jacob Wilson. Wilson immediately fired a wrist shot before Lethemon had time to set up, and ASU went up 3-1 heading into the third period.
Five minutes into the third, senior forward Patrick Khodorenko continued his stretch of timely scoring. After receiving a drop-pass from junior wing Mitchell Lewandowski, Khodorenko shifted to the right and threw the puck on net. His initial shot was turned away, but he was right there to put home his own rebound for his team-leading ninth goal of the season, cutting Arizona State’s lead to 3-2.
Freshman forward Nicolas Muller would bring the crowd at Munn to life just minutes later. The Spartans dumped the puck into the offensive zone with Muller hustling in, and the puck took an MSU bounce off the boards that came right out to him in the slot. Muller was able to capitalize, scoring his third goal of the season to tie the game 3-3 with 10:49 remaining in the game.
Once again, the Sun Devils would respond with a goal of their own not long after. ASU defenseman Jarrod Gourley handled the puck on his blue line with traffic in front of the net. His teammate, forward Johnny Walker was positioned directly in front of Lethemon to tip in Gourley’s shot and give the Sun Devils what would prove to be the winning goal with 5:40 remaining.
“They played great,” Khodorenko said. “They got a nice tip at the end to take the lead, but I thought we were right there with them in the second and third.”
The Spartans will look to split the weekend series when the same two teams meet again tomorrow night at Munn. Puck drop is set for 5 p.m.