It was cold outside Michigan State’s dressing room. In the depths of Yost Arena, equipment managers loaded gear out to the busses through a propped open door that let in the chill of late fall. Players filed out behind a thin and rickety partition, quietly greeting family members and friends in their sweats.
Earlier in the week, senior defenseman and captain Dennis Cesana talked about the importance of a short memory. There was certainly nothing forgettable about the preceding contest-so when does one learn to forget?
“It sticks with you until you hit the pillow at night,” he admitted. “Wake up in the morning and forget about it.”
The chaotic energy of Michigan State’s 7-2 loss to Michigan had subsided by that point but the loss and the memory remained. The Spartans were never quite out of it until the final ten minutes of a game that saw the penalty box serve as a revolving door, momentum swayed back and forth wildly without a single lead change and several late goals that made the result appear more lopsided than it actually was.
From the opening faceoff, Michigan State appeared more than game for the challenge. Only one problem: with the talent at hand, it didn’t even appear as if they were on the same ice as Michigan.
Sophomore defenseman Owen Power carved his way through Michigan State’s defense with an unseemly lack of effort. Sophomore center Matty Beniers seemed to find the puck on every single rush, charging ahead as Yost's crowd shrieked with each stride. And the Wolverine forecheck, an unforgiving, unrelenting beast of effort and position, stole possession after possession from the Spartans.
Three and a half minutes in, Michigan struck the first blow. Beniers got the puck off sophomore left wing Kent Johnson just behind the Spartans defense, setting up a one-on-one with sophomore goalkeeper Pierce Charleson. He leaned into the puck, sniping it across his body and into the net, 1-0, with the Yost crowd reeling in delight.
But when senior center Garrett Van Wyhe was whistled for contact to the head and issued a five minute major game misconduct, Michigan State was granted their first and strongest scoring opportunity of the first period. The last Spartan power play that showed up at Yost was close to the bottom of college hockey-this would be the time to show the growth of the unit in front of one of the Big Ten’s rowdiest crowds.
For those five minutes, it wasn’t Michigan State’s power play that took center stage. Michigan’s penalty kill dazzled, routinely blocking shots, disrupting just about every single Spartan drive into their zone and turning it around for two notable scoring attempts from Beniers.
Michigan returned to full strength. They had not only survived but dominated their shorthanded tenure. Now, they were off to find more scoring opportunities of their own.
With a little under ten minutes left, senior right wing Adam Goodsir was whistled for hooking and the Wolverines got their first power play of the night. Freshman left wing Dylan Duke and sophomore left wing Brendan Brisson chipped in some wide shots while Charleson had to reach for the save on sophomore center Thomas Bordeleau’s shot.
No shot would hurt as much as senior center Mitchell Mattson being sent to the box after yet another hooking call. Now it was three-on-five, the Spartans in dire straits against a Michigan squad that boasts one of the top ten power play percentages in the country.
Beniers, who always seemed to find the puck at the right spot and the right time, lived up to the statistics and put it in net for his second goal of the night, 2-0. In ten minutes, nearly everything that could’ve went wrong for Michigan State had gone wrong against their most bitter rival and one of the best teams in the country.
So when senior right wing Jimmy Lambert’s slapshot pinged off the left goalpost and echoed through Yost, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to hear it as a knockout bell of sorts. The fight seemed to be over, with one opponent destined to serve out the final two rounds on the ropes.
Michigan State, on the other hand, heard no such thing. Making a late stand in Michigan’s zone, the Spartans crashed hard behind the net and wagered chip shot after chip shot on the net.
Freshman defenseman David Gucciardi almost had it on a charge but missed wide on the Spartan’s best look of the game so far. Still, even if it wasn’t as controlled as they might’ve liked, Michigan State was finally out of their corner and getting some punches in.
With 16.8 seconds left in the first period, Mattson chipped it to senior defenseman Cole Krygier deep out in front of the net. Krygier slapped it in behind sophomore goalkeeper Erik Portillo, getting the Spartans on the board, 2-1, and stealing a chunk of the momentum to take into the dressing room.
Michigan State came out aggressive in the second period, even after freshman right wing Tanner Kelly was sent to the box barely over a minute in for too many men on the ice. The Spartans dug in, leaning on strong goaltending by Charleson and a mix of late disruptions and timely blocks to flip the script on the Wolverines.
Krygier’s goal and a strong kill put Michigan State right back in it. Once again, one more shot to knot it up would change the dynamic of the entire game.
And Kelly had it, too. Junior left winger Erik Middendorf whipped the puck over to him in front of a wide open right corner of the net. Kelly forced it a little too much and knocked the puck into the goalpost, where it drifted out to a recovering Wolverine.
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Another opportunity gone-as quickly as it arrived.
Michigan State continued to put the pressure on the Wolverines, who by now were just as much on the run and struggling with the puck as the Spartans were in the first period. Both sides batted each other back and forth, the physicality of the game rising with each jockey for possession.
With six minutes left in the second period, Johnson took matters into his own hands. His first shot came from the behind and railed off the pipe for a Wolverine recovery. His second came on one of Michigan’s favorite set plays, a quick pass across the front of the net to a waiting sniper on the right side.
Johnson was the aforementioned sniper. His shot, one that’s worked plenty of times this season for Michigan, was deflected and shot up into the air to kickstart a breathless scramble for the puck-one that Michigan State cleared to begin their own run of possession.
However, Michigan isn’t a team that leaves many periods fruitless. Brisson finally broke the scoring drought with a breakaway to the Spartan net, hesitating just enough to throw Charleson’s anticipation off and backhand it into the right side of the net, 3-1.
Michigan State fired back with some close attempts from Middendorf and sophomore defenseman Nash Nienhuis. But Michigan recovered the puck and delivered it to sophomore defenseman Jacob Truscott who found freshman defenseman Luke Hughes across the ice for a slapshot into the left corner of the net, 4-1, and a massive hole for the Spartans to climb out of.
As much as the first two periods had delivered, the third period upped the ante from the start. Middendorf was checked hard into the Spartan bench, held and brought in by his teammates and coaches. Subsequently, junior right wing Griffin Loughran and sophomore defenseman Steve Holtz got into it and were both issued two minute roughing and 10 minute roughing penalties to put an emphasis on an already wild start.
Shortly after, Mattson, capping off one of his best games of the season, chipped the puck in for the score a little under two minutes into the period to make it 4-2 Michigan.
Life again. But a consequent power play goal from freshman right wing Mackie Samoskevich made it 5-2. Four minutes later, Hughes struck again at even strength, 6-2.
And with 1:45 left in the contest, junior center Johnny Beecher wrapped it up in maize and blue with a final blow from the attack zone, solidifying a 7-2 final in Ann Arbor.
Michigan State returns to action on Saturday with the second game of their home-and-home series against Michigan at Munn Ice Arena. Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on BTN +.
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