With new Michigan State football coach Mel Tucker in attendance, the Spartan hockey team (14-14-1) fell behind early en route to a 5-1 loss to Michigan (14-12-3) Friday night.
MSU amassed a total of five penalties and were outshot 38-27, digging themselves a hole they just couldn’t climb out of. Senior captain Sam Saliba scored the lone goal on a night where the Spartans couldn’t muster up any offense against U-M goaltender Strauss Mann.
“Not a lot to say after that,” coach Danton Cole said. “Give Michigan credit, they played real well right through the end. They played faster and smarter than us.”
The Wolverines quickly quieted the sold-out Munn Ice Arena. Applying pressure early, they would finally break through with 13:53 remaining in the first period. U-M defenseman Nick Blankenburg set his team up on the power play, awaiting an opening in the offensive zone. His teammate, senior Jake Slaker, sat patiently inside the right circle. Calling for a pass, Blankenburg slid the puck over to Slaker, who rifled it past Spartan goaltender John Lethemon to put Michigan up 1-0.
Just two minutes later, the visiting team doubled their lead. U-M senior defenseman Luke Martin hadn’t scored all season, but that quickly changed when he put another one-timer past Lethemon to put the maize and blue up 2-0. Martin received a cross-ice pass at the top of the blue line and capitalized on his shot, collecting just his third career goal and first since his freshman year.
It was an action-packed, energizing first period that included a lot of bickering between the two school’s student sections. Michigan outshot MSU 14-8 through twenty minutes of play and carried a two-goal advantage into the second period.
Michigan’s momentum didn’t let up as the second period got underway. Just 19 seconds in, U-M forward Jacob Hayhurst broke loose as he carried the puck up the left side of the ice. Brushing past Spartan defenseman Dennis Cesana, Hayhurst sped in on a breakaway, put a move on Lethemon and gave the Wolverines a 3-0 advantage.
As time continued, the Spartans struggled to find any cohesiveness. Cole juggled the lines and pairings up at several points throughout the game, but nothing seemed to be clicking. With 7:23 to go in the second period, U-M defenseman Jack Summers tacked on yet another goal for the Wolverines. With a good amount of traffic in front of Lethemon, Summers threw the puck on net, slipping one in as the Spartan deficit increased to four heading into the final period.
At 3:26 into the third period, the Spartans would get their first power play opportunity of the game. As time on the man-advantage wound down, the green and white continued to pass the puck around in the offensive zone looking for the right time to cash in.
And cash in they did, as Cesana fired a hard pass towards the net that was redirected in by Saliba to make it 4-1 with 14:49 remaining in the game. The goal was Saliba’s tenth of the season.
The maize and blue would get one right back minutes later. With just under eight minutes to go in the game, Slaker collected his second goal of the night, almost identical to his first. This one came a little bit closer to the net, and Slaker put home another one-timer past an outstretched Lethemon to secure a 5-1 victory for the Wolverines.
“I thought it was our worst performance of the season to be honest with you,” Saliba said. “Just extremely disappointing. I think every guy in the locker room knows it and feels it.”
The same two teams will meet up again on Monday night at Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit, Michigan as a part of the Duel in the D. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m.
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