Michigan State (1-1) downed Air Force (1-1) 5-1 for their first win of the season on the strength of a dominating offensive attack and a complete defensive performance. The Spartans leaned on two goals apiece from fifth-year forward Mitchell Lewandowski and junior forward Griffin Loughran with senior defenseman Dennis Cesana chipping one in for a rare offensive explosion.
MSU Head Coach Danton Cole said the game was a step in the right direction for a team looking to reestablish themselves following 2020-2021's disappointing season. Still, he stressed a well-tempered approach this early in the season.
"We've gotten a little better every game and we had maybe some glimpses today of some good stuff but there's a long way to go," Cole said.
Following a disappointing 3-2 overtime loss on Friday, the Spartans came out aggressive in the first period, notching 13 shots to Air Force’s five. After an earlier unsuccessful power play, a crosschecking penalty on freshman defenseman Mitchell Digby opened the door for another opportunity.
Out of the scrum in front of Air Force’s net, Loughran found the puck on a high assist from junior forward Josh Nodler and batted it down into the net for his first goal in the green and white, 1-0 MSU. Two minutes later, more of the same for Loughran’s new routine after a major game misconduct on sophomore forward Will Gavin.
Nodler to Loughran, Loughran to the back of the net, 2-0 MSU. The effect his two-piece had on the opposition was not lost on Loughran.
“When (Air Force) came in and won night one, you got to have that huge start on night two and kind of crush their momentum, crush their spirits a little bit , and then continue that for the rest of the game,” Loughran said.
Two power play goals in one period was a bit of a revelation for a Spartan squad that notched only five shorthanded goals throughout last season. Loughran said the jump from bottom of the cellar to a suddenly formidable asset was contingent on getting in the right areas and not overcomplicating the opportunity at hand.
“Everyone knows you can’t be forcing pucks on the powerplay,” he said. “Everyone has a man open so make the simple play, get pucks in the net and capitalize.”
Despite MSU taking full advantage of Air Force’s early trips to the box, the Falcons didn’t lie over at the first sign of adversity. Sophomore defenseman Luke Rowe skated quickly over to the edge of MSU’s zone and fired the puck right over sophomore goalie Pierce Charleson’s shoulder into the upper left corner of the goal, 2-1. Moments later, Cole Krygier was called for elbowing and all the momentum the Spartans gained in the first ten minutes shifted squarely over to an Air Force team that knows how to come back.
The game lingered at 2-1 as MSU continually missed the opened the extra pass or perfect that would open the game up. Air Force, on the other hand, stayed disruptive for long enough to keep themselves afloat and mount an attack equal to Michigan State’s.
MSU opened up the second period with an impressive penalty kill that saw Air Force disjointed and struggling to even choose a passing lane in the Spartan’s zone. Both sides notched 12 shots on goal throughout the period but it was Lewandowski’s stroke on the power play with four minutes left that finally gave Michigan State some room to breathe.
Michigan State continued to press into the third period, despite a flurry of varying penalties that saw both sides play four-on-four for much of the remainder of regulation. Technically shorthanded but at even strength, Cesana got it on the move from Lewandowski, streaked across the goal crease and scored off a dazzling shot between his legs, 4-1 MSU.
It was an instant gem of a goal, one Cesana attributed to the chemistry he has with Lewandowski after playing with him throughout the entirety of his collegiate career. The connection was familiar but the form? Anything but.
“Never,” Cesana said when asked if he’s ever scored a goal like that before. “First time in 23 years.”
The game a foregone conclusion, Air Force abandoned their net in the futile hopes of a miraculous comeback. Lewandowski got the puck back in the neutral zone and gracefully crossed into Air Force’s zone.
He flicked it in, 5-1 MSU with a little over a minute to go. The horn sounded shortly after and 4,918 fans rose to their feet to cheer on the first Michigan State win with fans since early 2020.
Cole said the fans taking in the win were “outstanding” and said he’s glad to get back to winning in front of a home crowd.
“It’s a hell of a lot more fun having a few people cheering you on (than) just some piped in music and a couple ushers,” Cole said with a laugh.
"This is the way it should feel."
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Michigan State returns to action next Friday with a home matchup against Miami University. Puck drop is at 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on BTN +.
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