The No. 5 Michigan hockey team won all four regular season matchups against Michigan State this season. The Wolverines last beat the Spartans in the “Duel in the D,” taking home the Iron D Trophy once again.
Michigan (26-9-1 overall, 17-8 Big Ten) dominated in every outing against Michigan State (21-22-1 overall, 6-19 Big Ten) and continued its form in the Big Ten Tournament, winning the first game of the best-of-three quarterfinals, 4-1.
Michigan State looked to get revenge from the opening face off.
The Spartans gave the Wolverines trouble, earning two shots on sophomore goaltender Erik Portillo within the first four minutes. Michigan managed to collect zero and looked sluggish.
“We were flat in the first period,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “I like to use the Spring Break excuse. We didn’t have our normal routine and got off to a slow start. I give (Michigan State) credit and they played hard.”
Michigan State gained the lead when the Wolverines had too many players on the ice. Firing a shot from the right face off circle, defenseman Dennis Cesana blasted the puck into the far side netting and the Spartans were suddenly up 1-0.
After not earning any shots in the opening eight minutes, Michigan managed to clap back. Sophomore forward Matty Beniers shot the one-timer on a five-on-three powerplay and tied the game.
“Our powerplay has been good all year,” senior forward Nolan Moyle said. “Whenever you get an opportunity on a five-on-three, especially down like that, it gives the bench and team momentum moving forward. That was a huge goal for us.”
Leaving the ice for the first break, the Wolverines had work to do and trailed Michigan State in shots, 7-9.
Freshman defenseman Luke Hughes put Michigan ahead in the second period. Hughes turned and faked his defender then shot from the blue line, scoring bar down. The Wolverines led 2-1.
Halfway through the second period, graduate student forward Luke Morgan added another. Spartans’ goaltender Drew DeRidder swatted away senior defenseman Nick Blankenburg’s initial shot. Morgan nudged his stick under the puck, bumping it in for the rebound goal. Michigan almost added a fourth through sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau who missed high one-on-one with the goaltender.
The Wolverines were a period away from their first Big Ten Tournament win of the season.
Michigan State turned the puck over in the third period and freshman forward Mackie Samoskevich scooped it up. Driving up the right wing with junior forward Johnny Beecher trailing on the left, Samoskevich blasted it near post for his eighth of the season.
But scoring wasn’t his first instinct on the play.
“I wanted to give it to Beecher,” Samoskevich said. “The defender did a good job of taking away my passing lane. I saw the goaltender cheat at the pass and thought he wouldn’t be ready for the short side shot. I threw it there and luckily it went in.”
Michigan dived and poked the puck out of its defensive zone, maintaining its lead. And when senior defenseman Jack Summers earned a late penalty for holding, the Wolverines killed it and didn’t let Michigan State back in the game.
The Spartans may have had more grade-A scoring chances, but Michigan finished on more of its opportunities. Ultimately, its playmakers gave it the edge.
The Wolverines still have a long road ahead of themselves in order to lift the Big Ten Tournament championship trophy on March 19. But in their first Big Ten Tournament matchup, the Wolverines didn’t always look up to the task and must be fully prepared for Saturday’s contest.
“I’m proud of our guys for hanging in there and finding a way to get the job done,” Pearson said. “But we all need to be better tomorrow and take another step. We need to be ready to play from the drop because we don’t want to be back here Sunday.”