EAST LANSING — A home advantage, historic rivalry or explosive crowd are all factors that can turn the tables in a college hockey game on their own. And unfortunately for the Michigan hockey team, all three were present in a packed Munn Ice Arena on Friday night.
Following the Wolverines’ shutout of Michigan State on Thursday — their first of the season — they may have thought they had some breathing room heading into the second part of the home-and-home series. Instead, they were left suffocating.
The Spartans’ offense came to life early in the game, giving them a lead that would only grow as the game wore on. Michigan (3-5-2-1 Big Ten, 7-7-2 overall) ultimately suffered a sizable 5-0 loss to conference bottom-dweller Michigan State (2-7-1-1, 8-9-1), forcing the Wolverines to head home with a series split.
“The tables were reversed tonight,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “They made their chances count, and we couldn’t score. I think it was just a tale of two games. Last night, we got the best of them, and tonight they were the better team.”
Right out of the gates, the rival teams played a back-and-forth game, with the puck continuously launching from one side of the ice to the other over the first eight minutes.
But almost halfway through the period, this pattern quickly came to a halt.
Michigan suffered the first penalty of the game, as senior forward Niko Porikos was sent to the box for boarding 8:13 into the period. After the power-play faceoff, Michigan State capitalized on the man-advantage, as forward Patrick Khodorenko slapped the puck into the net five seconds into the penalty.
This early goal demonstrated a clear shift from the previous night — a lopsided game in which the Spartans gave the Wolverines little to worry about. Additionally, it ensured that sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne, who was given the start for the second straight night, would not see another shutout between the pipes.
Despite Michigan’s numerous attempts to equalize the score over the next few minutes — the Wolverines had double the on-target shot count of Michigan State until the final two minutes of the period — none of its shots broke through Spartan goaltender Jon Lethemon.
While it looked like Michigan would escape the first period with just a one-goal deficit, Michigan State had other intentions. With just four seconds dwindling on the clock, Khoderenko challenged Lavigne yet again — this time with his team at full strength. His next attempt was successful, sending the Spartans into the first intermission with a two-goal lead.
Just 2:06 into the second period, the Wolverines were given a chance to answer with a power play as Michigan State was called for slashing, but they failed to make use of their first man-advantage.
The Spartans showed they would not sit comfortably with a 2-0 lead, striking again midway through the second period. Nine minutes in, junior forward Brendan Warren was sent to the box for hooking, giving Michigan State another power play. Forward Mitch Lewandowski put the advantage to good use, tacking on the Spartans’ third goal of the game.
As Michigan’s offense lay fairly dormant, Michigan State continued to avenge its embarrassing loss from the previous night, showing no signs of stopping throughout the rest of the second period. With just under six minutes remaining, the Spartans fired again, and this time it would be defenseman Mitch Eliot who chipped in to the efforts. Eliot knocked in Michigan State’s fourth goal of the night, leaving the Wolverines desperate for a large rally heading into the final period of play.
Michigan sent sophomore goaltender Jack LaFontaine into the game to guard the net, but LaFontaine would soon face a similar fate as his counterpart.
The Spartans continued their offensive onslaught, recording seven shots on goal within the first four minutes of the third period. On their eighth shot — yet another power play — Michigan State struck gold, proving that it could test LaFontaine as well. Forward Logan Lambdin punched the puck past the netminder, leaving Michigan players scrambling to recover from a five-goal deficit.
“I think (the crowd) does give the home team a spark, there’s no question about it,” Pearson said. “But goals give your team a spark. And they got the goals at key times to get their team on the board. We had some good looks and good chances at key times, but we didn’t finish. And when you can’t finish, you’re not going to win many games.”
Simply put, the Wolverines were never able to find the Spartan net.
Michigan left East Lansing empty-handed, with a shutout loss following a shutout win just the night before.
The Wolverines won’t have to wait long before confronting the Spartans again at the Great Lakes Invitational in early January. In many ways, Friday’s game served as a reality check for the next encounter.
“Anytime you face State, it’s huge,” said senior defenseman Sam Piazza. “Yesterday we were incredibly fired up and ready to rock, and we played well and won by a lot. And we got too comfortable. So next time we cross their path, we won’t be so comfortable.”