They say that offense wins games while defense wins championships. In the case of Michigan State hockey, their defense led them to a tie with Arizona State in the season opener Thursday night at Munn Ice Arena.
The Sun Devils tested MSU's defense early, and the Spartan defense became even more important as the game progressed.
Just over five minutes into the first period, Michigan State forward Jagger Joshua was assessed a slashing penalty and the Spartans went to the penalty kill. The penalty kill was dominant, not allowing a single shot on goal during the two minute span and also setting a tone for the rest of the game.
Michigan State would be tagged with two other penalties during the game, both by senior forward Brody Stevens. One may think that the penalty kill perhaps would struggle with Stevens, who started on the ice during the first penalty kill during Joshua’s penalty, in the box.
That was not the case.
Arizona State struggled again to generate any sort of high quality scoring chances while on the power play. In total, the Sun Devils finished with three shots on goal across all three power plays.
Michigan State Head Coach Danton Cole was proud of his team's effort on the penalty kill Thursday night but still saw room for improvement.
“Conceptually, I thought it was OK," Cole said. "We got a little twisted a couple of times, which I didn’t like. It’s the first game and our switches weren’t real quick, but we kind of made up for it with really good sticks and we got to lanes,” Cole said.
Although, in any game when there is only one goal allowed, the goalie must have played well too. Junior Drew DeRidder got the start for MSU and looked strong by bringing in 22 saves.
“He bailed us out when he needed to," Cole said. "He probably wants one more save but that’s not on him. He played a real strong game. Got us some whistles when we needed it, took care of his rebounds, he was pretty tidy."
The defensemen also deserve credit. Two of the six Michigan State defensemen were freshmen starting in their first ever collegiate games, Aiden Gallacher and Nash Nienhuis.
“I thought they played really well," junior defenseman Christian Krygier, who scored the Spartans' only goal, and his first career goal, said. "I thought the d-core today was really solid. I thought we kept it simple and then at times it got a little complicated but we just zoned it in."
Gallacher played in the second defensive pairing with Christian Krygier, blocking two shots. Nienhuis, on the other hand, was paired with captain Tommy Miller. While he did not block any shots, Nienhuis provided some offensive pressure by putting two shots on ASU's net.
Miller was perhaps the most impressive defenseman, tallying up a game high five blocked shots.
While the team looked stout defensively, they will need to score more than one goal to win games. Cole noted that the team needs to improve its transition defense, which in turn should help generate some offense with getting pucks to the net.
“I think we missed a lot of opportunities to shut down some of their rushes and transition to go back the other way and get something out of it,” Cole said. “... We always talk about speed then read. I think we were looking around to see what was happening and then it’s a little too late and puts a little more pressure on us.”
The strong defensive performance lost its shutout with just 4:14 remaining in the third period when ASU forward Chris Grando slipped one past DeRidder, leading to the eventual tie.
The Spartans will have a chance to secure their first win of the season at 6 p.m. on Friday night in a second game versus Arizona State at Munn Ice Arena.
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