On Friday night, the Michigan hockey team returned from Detroit after winning in its final “Duel in the D” battle at Joe Louis Arena. A 4-4 tie with Michigan State had forced the game into a shootout, and junior defenseman Sam Piazza’s goal allowed the team to take home the Iron D trophy.
Saturday’s game didn’t turn out as well.
The Wolverines (2-8-2-2 Big Ten, 9-14-3 overall) fell to the Spartans, 4-1. The stark contrast between the weekend’s games proved to be enough for Michigan State (2-8-2-0, 6-17-3) to salvage a split in the series.
In the beginning, a Michigan win didn’t seem unattainable. Freshman goaltender Jack LaFontaine faced 14 shots from the Spartans throughout the first period, and even when it looked guaranteed that the puck would go in, it didn’t.
When Michigan State forward Mason Appleton brought the puck close on a breakaway, LaFontaine knocked it away. When a mess broke out in front of the Wolverines’ net and a shot bounced off LaFontaine onto the stick of a Spartan forward, he still managed to block the follow-up shot.
Michigan State goaltender John Lethemon faced a significantly smaller challenge — he saw just five shots compared to LaFontaine’s 14 — but managed to keep the score locked at zero.
“We didn’t compete hard enough,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “For me, it’s compete. It’s preparation and compete. Whether last night’s game influenced tonight’s game in anyway, I don’t know. I thought we had to be better tonight, and we weren’t even close to being better. We took a step backwards.”
As the clock wound down to end the first period, freshman forward Adam Winborg brought the puck to the Spartans’ end of the ice. The crowd pressured him to shoot it, and he did, but with no luck. Both teams entered the second period scoreless.
A penalty on sophomore forward Brendan Warren almost led to Michigan State’s first goal of the game. The puck was left in perfect position for a goal after bouncing off LaFontaine, but was immediately knocked away by a Michigan defensemen, and the penalty kill proved to be sufficient.
But from there, the night seemed to derail. A little over seven minutes into the period, Spartan forward Rhett Holland scored to put Michigan State ahead. And after a short scuffle in front of the net, it looked as if LaFontaine would have to be taken out of the game after a player fell on his leg.
Though he ended up staying in the game for a few additional minutes, he was ultimately replaced by senior goaltender Zach Nagelvoort with 8:04 left in the period.
After the change in net, a turnover in the Wolverines’ zone led to a second Spartan goal, this time by defenseman Zach Osburn. And with 50 seconds left on the clock in the second period, Michigan State forward Taro Hirose scored on a short-handed breakaway to push the Spartans to a three-goal lead.
With Michigan State defenseman Mitch Elliot serving a penalty at the beginning of the third period, it seemed as if Michigan might be able to cut the deficit. But less than a minute in, Appleton brought the puck close to the net, and this time, he didn’t fail to capitalize — propelling the puck past Nagelvoort for the fourth goal of the night.
“It’s unacceptable,” said senior defenseman Nolan De Jong. “You go on a man advantage and you’ve got to keep a five-on-five mentality. You’ve got to be able to go out there and compete and outwork a team even though you have that extra man. It just comes down to a matter of making smart plays and putting it on the line, which we didn’t do.”
Following the Spartans’ fourth goal, a shot from De Jong almost resulted in a Michigan goal but bounced off the post. A number of Michigan State penalties provided power-play opportunities for the Wolverines, but none of them were capitalized on.
Freshman defenseman Griffin Luce was able to score off a faceoff from the point with nine seconds left on a power play — his first goal of the season — but it wasn’t enough to combat the four-goal lead built up by the Spartans. This time, there was no win and no trophy.