Michigan State fell to Western Michigan 3-1 in their first match of the 2021 Great Lakes Invitational.
Going against a top ten Western Michigan (14-5) team, the Spartans (10-8-1) upset bid fell short in a chippy, tight game that saw a slew of power plays and big hits. Freshman defenseman David Gucciardi scored Michigan State's lone goal while senior goaltender Drew DeRidder notched 35 saves, good for 2nd Star of the Game honors.
Michigan State was outshot 38-29 in a performance that saw the offense get stunted early and started far too late.
The first period saw an overwhelmed Michigan State get pelted early and often by shot attempts from ten different Broncos. They had more than enough reason to tee off as well: senior defenseman Dennis Cesana was sent to the box for hooking barely a minute in, giving Western Michigan an early look against a shorthanded Spartan unit.
The Broncos, holders of the tenth best power-play percentage in Division I, kept up the aggression but DeRidder and the other members of Michigan State’s penalty kill stood tall to survive the early attack, punctuated by junior center Nicolas Müller’s final clearing pass.
Western Michigan continued to plant themselves in the Spartan zone and rack up shots, pummeling DeRidder to an early tune of eight shots to merely one shot from Michigan State. Six minutes in, senior right-winger Cole Gallant sent a nervous hush over the crowd when he pulled up and fired a rocket right into DeRidder’s glove.
Senior defenseman Christian Krygier put Michigan State at another disadvantage after being whistled for interference but an ensuing tripping penalty from senior center Drew Worrad gave Michigan State their first clear-cut scoring opportunity of the night with a penalty shot awarded to the Spartans. Müller started his attempt in his zone, skated up quick, sketched the puck around and fired—only for junior goalie Brandon Bussi to read it perfectly for the save.
The score remained 0-0 after the Spartans withstood yet another power play. Still, Western Michigan pressed harder than before, with graduate student center Paul Washe sending a shot just barely wide right, a reminder of the perils the group from Kalamazoo presented.
And after skating up and into a one-on-one, freshman forward Max Sasson went low on DeRidder’s left side and sniped the puck in and out, looping out from the back of the net to open up scoring and give Western Michigan a 1-0 lead.
Following Sasson’s snipe, Michigan State got their first power-play opportunity of the night after graduate student left wing Ethen Frank was whistled for tripping. Fifth-year left wing Mitchell Lewandowski was perfectly positioned to tie the game at the right corner of the net in the waning seconds of the power play but Western batted the puck away before it could ever reach him.
As the horn sounded on the first period, seconds removed from freshman right wing Dylan Wendt’s quality shot on DeRidder, it felt as if the Spartans had escaped more than anything else.
That same feeling would come back to mind after sophomore left wing Chad Hillebrand opened the second period beating sophomore defenseman Aiden Gallacher back and sliding one past DeRidder to make it 2-0 a little over a minute into the second period. Subsequently, junior right wing Griffin Loughran almost had an answer of his own with a scrum-starting attempt in front of Western Michigan’s goal only for Bussi to come up with a save off the strength of his extended left leg.
Meanwhile, Western Michigan stayed the course, generating shot after shot, each one coming harder than the last. As the Broncos took to DeRidder’s net like a driving range, they failed to improve their lead but came far too close for comfort on shots from senior right wing Cole Gallant.
One thing became certain: if the Spartans didn’t get an opportunity of sorts, they’d eventually be doomed to find themselves in a much deeper hole sooner rather than later.
That opportunity came when Frank picked up his second penalty of the game, this time for roughing. Michigan State started their second penalty play a little unsteady, denoting a timidness that comes with facing a quality penalty kill.
And then, just as quick as the Spartans went down with Hillebrand’s shot, Gucciardi got the puck high in the zone and slapped it through a crowd of Broncos and past Bussi for one of the prettiest goals of the night. Assisted by Loughran and sophomore right wing Jeremy Davidson, Gucciardi’s second goalof the year marked some much-needed success on the power play and some new life for Michigan State.
From there, the second period managed to balance itself out. The Spartans found themselves with more time and chances in Western Michigan’s zone than any other point in the game while the Broncos still launched high-scale onslaughts against a slightly more disruptive Michigan State defense.
Sophomore left wing Ty Glover almost nicked one past DeRidder late in the period before Lewandowski was sent off for cross-checking with 22 seconds left in the period. Recognizing the chance at hand, Western Michigan scuttled hard as the clock ticked down but came up fruitless as the horn sounded on their one-goal lead.
The third period was about as even as it could be between these two teams, with each side batting each other around up and down the ice no matter how many men were out there. Michigan State successfully killed the remainder of Western Michigan’s power play and got an edge of their own early after the Broncos were whistled for having too many men on the ice.
The Spartans failed to convert on that chance and a firm rhythm of dump-and-chase settled in between both sides. Michigan State (Sasson for tripping) and Western Michigan (Loughran for tripping) earned more looks at a shorthanded side but as intense as the affair was, neither side could put it together entirely to either tie the game or bury their opposition.
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Lewandowski got the puck right in front of Bussi with two minutes to go but failed to convert thanks to a save from Bussi. Immediately after, freshman center Jesse Tucker crept forward, received the puck, decked it once and fired straight on Western Michigan’s goal.
Once again, Bussi came up for another huge save.
And with a minute to go and DeRidder off the ice, Gallant buried an empty-netter goal from the right side of Michigan State’s zone to ice the 3-1 win for Western Michigan.
Michigan State returns to action on Dec. 30 against Michigan Tech. The game will mark their second and final game in the 2021 Great Lakes Invitational.
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