Michigan State had perhaps its most complete game of the year Saturday night against Ohio State. From the drop of the puck, the Spartans were the aggressors, peppering OSU freshman goalie Jakub Dobes with shots and outworking the Buckeyes in all three zones.
But Ohio State came away with the win thanks to a stellar performance from Dobes between the pipes and contributions from the highly skilled forwards, handing Michigan State its sixth straight loss.
The result was the same, but this one felt different. For the entire season, Michigan State hockey Head Coach Danton Cole has preached consistency, and it seems the team finally listened — albeit in a loss.
“I was proud of the way the guys played,” Cole said. “That was probably as good a 60 minutes as we’ve played this year.”
The performance was a far cry from the previous night’s matchup. On Friday night, Ohio State dominated MSU — matching the Spartans' physicality and spending a majority of the game in the offensive zone. Senior goaltender Drew DeRidder could not bail out MSU this time, as the Buckeyes secured a 4-1 win.
The Spartans flipped the script the following night. On Saturday, Michigan State outshot Ohio State 42-30, a rare feat for a team that averages just 27.85 shots on goal per game, which is last in the Big Ten. The forwards tilted the ice towards the offensive zone, finding ways to enter the zone cleanly and more importantly — maintain possession.
The Ohio State counterattack that proved so lethal the night before could not find as much success. Michigan State mucked up the neutral zone, making the Buckeyes quick transitional game a little choppy. Upon OSU’s zone entry, the Spartan forwards clamped down on their opponents, forcing Ohio State to increase puck movement. In short, Michigan State played tough and worked hard for the first time in a while.
“That was probably the hardest game I’ve played - definitely after Christmas break, but arguably the whole year,” junior forward Erik Middendorf said. “That’s one of those games that coach Cole says you just run out of time.”
Michigan State’s freshmen were also sharp on the weekend. After a quiet start to the year, freshman forward Tanner Kelly nabbed two goals on the weekend. Freshman forward Jesse Tucker and freshman defenseman David Gucciardi each tallied an assist as well.
After a rough month, it is starting to become clear what a winning formula for Michigan State looks like: A blue-collar mentality that forces teams to out-skill, not outwork the Spartans.
“At the end of the day, we’re all workhorses,” Middendorf said. “We don’t consider ourselves a more skilled team than a majority of the teams in the Big Ten. We just want to outwork the other team.”
Michigan State has a chance to rest with a bye week before heading to the final stretch of Big Ten play. Things don’t get easier after the break — the Spartans return to play on the road against Minnesota, one of the best teams in the conference. On a six-game losing streak, it is hard to find much optimism. But in Saturday night’s loss, the Spartans seem to have found something they can build upon — a blue-collar work ethic.
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