In the last game of the 2017 calendar year at Yost Ice Arena, the Michigan hockey team gave its fans two things they had been waiting all season to see.
Buoyed by a perfect, 21-for-21 performance between the pipes by sophomore goaltender Hayden Lavigne, the Wolverines (3-4-2 Big Ten, 7-6-2 overall) took down Michigan State, 4-0, on Thursday night, recording their first shutout of the year.
And with three minutes remaining, senior forward Tony Calderone scored his third goal of the game, capping off an emphatic victory over the Spartans (1-7-1, 7-9-1) with his first career hat trick.
Each of Calderone’s goals came differently. The first took place with five minutes remaining in the second period. Senior forward Dexter Dancs’ pass hit Calderone on the edge of the crease, with just Spartan goaltender John Lethemon in the way. Calderone coolly took his time, dancing to the goalie’s left and firing the puck into the top of the net.
Calderone lit the lamp for a second time halfway through the third period. Junior forward Cooper Marody and Calderone worked a two-on-one to perfection, as Marody’s cross-ice pass hit Calderone’s stick and he finished with a one-timer.
The final tally, with 3:28 left in the game, materialized out of a scrum around the net, and the Wolverines’ captain knocked it home.
“I’ve had a couple two-goal games, it’s not something always on your mind too much but to get the third one really felt awesome,” Calderone said. “My linemates made it easy today. Dexter made a great play on two of them, Cooper made a great pass on the second so I think they made it really easy and they’re the reason it happened.”
Added Michigan coach Mel Pearson: “He scores in a bunch of different ways. The goal I really liked was the second goal of the game where he gets it all alone. It’s hard when you don’t have any speed and momentum, the goaltender’s just standing there with you. He made a bunch of moves, and he just made it look easy. I’m really happy for him, proud of him and the senior class the way they performed tonight.”
Despite statistics that might have predicted otherwise — Michigan State came into the contest ranking just 53rd in the nation in goals per game — the Spartans were the more threatening team in the game’s first five minutes. Quick, dangerous puck movement forced Lavigne to make several tough saves, and Michigan State held an early 5-0 advantage in shots on goal.
Surprisingly, though, Michigan might have come away from the first period with a stronger feeling of missed opportunity. After a Spartan penalty, the Wolverines began their first stretch of extended attack, and nearly came out of nowhere to shoot into the lead when the puck bounced to freshman forward Josh Norris in the crease with the goaltender way out of position. Norris’ shot, however, sailed over the pipe.
While Michigan couldn’t capitalize on its power play, the Wolverines did appear to be settled down from that point, as the rest of the first period was much more evenly matched.
The script of the initial stanza was flipped after the first intermission. This time, it was Michigan that had better chances — most notably, a flip shot by freshman forward Jack Becker that bounced over Lethemon and across the crease.
All that threatened to change, however, when Becker was penalized for cross-checking five minutes into the period. Sophomore defenseman Griffin Luce joined him in the box just 13 seconds later, and the Wolverines found themselves staring down the barrel of a gun.
Michigan State, however, couldn’t pull the trigger. The Wolverines jammed together in front of the net, laying out to block shots while desperately trying to withstand the two-man deficit.
Upon returning to full strength, Michigan wasted no time breaking down the ice. Junior defenseman Joseph Cecconi launched a missile from the point, which Norris was there to tip home for a 1-0 lead. From there, the Wolverines didn’t look back.
While Calderone’s performance is the one that will undoubtedly be remembered from Thursday, Lavigne was superb in his own right. The sophomore commanded both sides of the net from the very beginning of the game, spreading out to deny the Spartans on numerous occasions.
Pearson was quick to give Lavigne the credit for Michigan’s first shutout, bemoaning the numerous “grade-A” opportunities that Michigan State had.
“We gave up too many grade-A opportunities,” Pearson said. “As you watch the game back, I’m not going to like it. Some of the opportunities we’re giving up, especially at key times in the game — I think Hayden bailed us out tonight. We’ve to be better, we’ve got to cut down on grade-As. You need goaltending, obviously, and he did a phenomenal job.”
Regardless, that criticism did little to erase the significance of the result, especially for the Wolverines’ senior class.
“I told the team after the game, the seniors, it’s your last game here in Yost against Michigan State — last regular season game at Yost,” Pearson said. “What a way to end your career against Michigan State at Yost Ice Arena.”