As the final seconds of the second period wound down, Michigan forward T.J. Hughes was gifted the puck at a low angle in front of the Michigan State net. MSU graduate goaltender Dylan St. Cyr extended to his left and robbed Hughes of what would’ve been his second goal of the night.
Six seconds later, the second-period buzzer sounded and Michigan’s freshman forward Rutger McGroarty raised his stick and slammed it on the ice. It was St. Cyr’s second stone cold robbery in a span of four minutes.
While it was McGroarty’s first taste of the Michigan-Michigan State college hockey rivalry, there haven’t been many instances recently of a Wolverine slamming his stick in frustration against the Spartans. Last year’s loaded Michigan roster defeated MSU in all six tries, without much effort in most of those games.
There are many areas to credit for Michigan State’s sudden ascension under new Head Coach Adam Nightingale, but the addition of St. Cyr may be the most impactful. He only needed to make 22 saves in Friday night’s 2-1 win over No. 6 Michigan, but he made every one count.
Opposing St. Cyr was Michigan’s junior goaltender Erik Portillo, one of last year’s Big Ten Goaltender of the Year finalists. While he hasn’t been as sharp to start the season, Portillo is still regarded as one of the top goaltenders in the conference.
But it was one shot in the first period that he likely wishes he had back.
Michigan took an early 1-0 lead in the first when senior forward Nico Müller couldn't handle the puck cleanly and freshman forward T.J. Hughes fired a quick shot to beat St. Cyr.
Two and a half minutes later, Müller blitzed toward the Wolverine net, starting a hectic scrum after the whistle that resulted in a double-minor for Müller and a roughing minor for Michigan junior defenseman Jacob Truscott. Michigan briefly went on the power play as a previous Wolverine penalty expired, putting MSU shorthanded.
Freshman forward Daniel Russell played it down the wall for fellow freshman forward Karsen Dorwart, who chipped it back toward the blue line. Fifth-year defenseman Cole Krygier released a soft shot that hit the glove of Portillo and ended up in the back of the net, tying the game at 1-1.
In a 2-1 game, that shot made a huge difference.
Then in the second, St. Cyr made his stamp on the game. The Spartans took the lead at 7:46 after freshman forward Tiernan Shoudy won the puck in a hellacious scrum in front of the net. However, the Wolverines pressed hard following the go-ahead goal.
Freshman forward Matt Basgall took an interference penalty with 4:36 remaining in the period, and MSU didn’t register another shot on goal until the third period.
St. Cyr had his first robbery of the night on junior forward Philippe Lapointe. Michigan was moving the puck well, and the Spartan defense was on edge. A quick pass found the stick of Lapointe, and St. Cyr had to leap from left to right to make the stop.
Then moments later, St. Cyr shut the door on Hughes, keeping Michigan State ahead entering the third period.
“I think it's just kind of one of those games where you're just barely not thinking and I think that's what helps most of those backdoor plays to kind of make those saves,” St. Cyr, who picked up his 11th win of the season, said. “Most guys were in really good shooting positions and they kind of just threw them out to the side.”
Stupendous goaltending isn’t a new trait for MSU, even during the recent dark seasons. In 2020-21, Drew DeRidder, who’s since transferred to North Dakota, was an All-Big Ten honorable mention and a member of the Mike Richter Award watch list. He led the conference in total saves and saves per game. DeRidder had another strong season last year too.
But this time, St. Cyr has help in front of him – much more than DeRidder was presented as a Spartan. MSU has top-to-bottom depth, and it’s showing on both ends of the ice.
“I think our whole team just bought into the game and basically playing a team defense,” St. Cyr said. “They made it so that the shots were kind of predictable and kept everything to the outside.”
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Michigan State played easily its worst series of the season last week, suffering a sweep at home to Minnesota while being outscored 11-3. St. Cyr wasn’t sharp, and neither were the skaters, oftentimes failing to push attackers off the puck or coughing up inexcusable turnovers.
But the Spartans responded the way they wanted to, tightening it up defensively, even as Michigan was without star freshman forward Adam Fantilli, who, ahead of Friday night, was second in the country with 26 points. Three of the Wolverines' top goal-scorers – McGroarty and sophomore forwards Mackie Samoskevich and Dylan Duke – had just two shots on goal.
If Michigan State truly is in the making of a historic run — winning the first Big Ten Tournament game in program history, qualifying for the NCAA Tournament and even sweeping Michigan Saturday night for the first time since 2019 — the defense and goaltending will have to replicate what it did Friday night. The 12-6-1 Spartans are starting to look capable of doing that.
“I don't see it stopping ever,” Shoudy said. “(St. Cyr) does it in practice every day too. He's one-of-a-kind for sure.”
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