Throughout the duration of the three hour and three minute matchup between No. 15 Michigan State hockey and No. 5 Michigan on Friday, the archrivals were whistled for a combined 28 penalties.
An abundance of thrown punches, intense hits and fighting resulted in numerous stops and timeouts to review previous plays, therefore, extending regulation. In the end, it was 45 minutes longer than MSU’s game against Notre Dame last Friday.
Before the chaotic second frame commenced, the Wolverines jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first 12 minutes of the game. The Spartans gained momentum in the final period, but Michigan fended off the late comeback attempt, leaving East Lansing with a 4-2 victory.
The most notable scuffle took place after a whistle at the 14:50 mark, when the nation’s leading point scorer, freshman forward Adam Fantilli cross-checked junior defenseman Nash Nienhuis. Fantilli then shoved Nienhuis from the back, nearly knocking him to the ground. The pair got into a shoving match before throwing blow after blow to the other’s head, which ultimately yanked both of their helmets off.
The spectacle caused eight penalties in all. First, officials slapped three infractions each on Fantilli and Nienhuis, including majors for fighting and disqualification. Nienhuis received a minor for slashing as well, while Fantilli got the same amount of time for roughing. Sophomore forward Tanner Kelly and Michigan sophomore defenseman Luke Hughes also served two minutes in the box, respectively, for roughing.
Nienhuis and Fantilli are also disqualified from Saturday’s rematch in Detroit due to NCAA rules. Fantilli missed the December series against the Spartans since he was off playing in the World Junior hockey championships. Meaning, he faced Michigan State for less than two periods this season.
Two minor penalties were handed out in the first twenty minutes, one for each team. Period two was an entirely different story.
Michigan recorded nine penalties in the second frame alone, while MSU tallied eight in the same amount of time. The Wolverines controlled the first period showcasing their NHL level talent. However, for the majority of the third period, MSU outskated Michigan, motivated by another sold-out green and white home crowd.
The Spartans produced some of their best puck handling of the season in the final twenty minutes. They outshot the Wolverines too, 24-17, after putting up only half of Michigan’s shots in the first period.
Freshman defenseman Viktor Hurtig had what would have been his first collegiate goal overturned in the first period due to goaltender interference. At last, freshman forward Tiernan Shoudy got the Spartans on the board at the 4:54 mark with his second goal against Michigan this season.
“In the moment, it felt really good. And I mean, I was just trying to spark the boys I guess, but it’d feel a little bit better to win,” Shoudy said. “We know we got some things we need to clean up, but I thought we kind of controlled play at least the second half of the game there and had a lot of chances but didn't go in for us, so we’ll get them tomorrow.”
The Wolverines were caught with too many men on the ice early in the third period, resulting in an MSU power play. Less than a minute later, senior forward Nico Müller gave the Spartans a fighting chance, putting them within one with 15:28 left to play. It was Müller’s sixth goal of the season and second in two weeks.
Despite the effort, it was not enough for the Spartans to overcome the three score deficit they suffered early in the game. The nail in the coffin was an empty net goal by freshman forward Gavin Brindley with 1:01 left on the clock.
Following the game, MSU Head Coach Adam Nightingale said he thought his team handled the intensity of the series and that penalties are expected in a feisty, passionate rivalry.
“I have a hard time calling any of that fighting,” Nightingale said. “I know they called it fighting, but there were scrums – there's emotion, right? And that's good. I mean, I think you got to play the game with emotion, and I thought our crowd was great, you know, and I thought our guys … did a really good job … playing with emotion, but also controlling it.”
Michigan Head Coach Brandon Naurato, who like Nightingale, is a hockey alumnus of his respective university, said he was “super proud” of the team’s resilience.
“It’s extremely rewarding (to win that game),” Naurato said. “We have the puck the whole game, and we're chasing the game because we're in the box. And – how do you want me to word it? – Like, they can't play with us. They can't play with us unless they goon it up, so, we got the bad end of the deal there.”
Müller said Michigan State needs to rack up less penalties during the Duel in the D on Saturday in order to be successful.
“I think that's definitely the key for tomorrow, that we stay out of the box and can play like 5-on-5 shifts, so every line can kind of get into the game,” Müller said. “Definitely, play smarter after whistles … and then we'll be good.”
Nightingale echoed Müller’s remarks: “We got to play the game hard, play between the whistles. I thought our guys did a great job of not, you know, running their mouths. We want to play between the whistles and emotional boil over at times in scrums and that's part of our game, but yeah, I think the guys did a good job with it.”
One of the oldest and fiercest rivalries in college hockey is very much alive, and it was apparent from the passion and emotion illustrated on the ice Friday night.
“You can ask any guy in that room ... we hate these guys, and we always say, you can't beat these guys enough,” Michigan graduate forward Nolan Moyle said. “It's good to see, coming out with a road win.”
With the loss Michigan State falls to 15-14-2 overall and 9-10-2 in conference play. At the same time, Michigan earned win number 19 on the year and 11 in the Big Ten, picking up three crucial points in conference standings.
The Spartans and Wolverines meet again Saturday at 8 p.m. for the regular season finale at Little Caesars Arena. The game will be televised on ESPNU.