DETROIT –– More than just the “Iron D” trophy was on the line when the Michigan hockey team took the ice on Saturday.
Coming into the annual “Duel in the D” against Michigan State, just five points separated the Wolverines –– who are deadlocked with Minnesota for second place –– from last place in the Big Ten standings. With Ohio State 11 points ahead in the conference standings, and the battle for a first-round bye effectively over, home-ice in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament is on the line with each game.
Coming off a 5-3 win on Friday night at Yost Ice Arena against Michigan State, Michigan looked to complete its first conference series sweep of season. And, with the game still in the balance minutes into the third period, freshman forward Nolan Moyle collected the puck along the right-side boards.
He sprinted up the right wing with no one to beat but Michigan State goaltender Drew DeRidder. As he curled in toward the slot, the freshman went forehand, backhand and fired into the top of the net to push the Michigan’s lead to 3-0.
The goal from Moyle would prove to be the difference maker for the Wolverines, who went on to win, 5-2.
The opening minutes of Saturday night’s contest featured back and forth play with both teams gauging each another.
Sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes helped ignite the offense when he collected a loose puck that was heading toward the blue line and out of Michigan’s offensive zone. Hughes gathered the puck, skated up the left-side boards and curled in toward the net. He found sophomore forward Dakota Raabe, who was crashing the net as the play developed. Raabe’s one timer from the top of the crease gave the Wolverines a 1-0 lead, 5:30 into the first period.
Michigan State struggled to get into their offensive sets early on. After generating a few chances, their momentum was halted by a penalty on forward Tommy Apap for boarding. And seconds into the power play for Michigan, the Wolverines extended their lead to 2-0.
Hughes launched the puck toward the net. It hit junior forward Nick Pastujov in front of the crease. Junior forward Will Lockwood then crashed the net and fired the loose puck past DeRidder.
The second goal gave Michigan the momentum for the remainder of the period and into the first intermission.
The Spartans came out in the second period with a more concerted offensive attack, challenging freshman goaltender Strauss Mann early on.
Forward Patrick Khodorenkdo drew in two Wolverine defenders as he floated toward the right faceoff circle. He laid off the puck across to forward Taro Hirose who was one-on-one with Mann. Hirose took a stride toward the net and fired a shot five-hole on Mann who came up with the save to preserve the two-goal lead.
Despite some defensive miscues in the second period, Mann’s performance in net sustained the two-goal lead heading into the third period.
“I can’t say enough about our goaltender Strauss Mann,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “I thought he stood tall tonight and maybe didn’t have too many saves, but he had some great saves on some of their top players and I think he was a real difference in the hockey game.”
Minutes into the final period, Moyle provided Michigan with a three-goal cushion on his breakaway goal, increasing the lead to 3-0.
But the Spartans weren’t dead yet.
A goal from forward Mitchell Lewandowski from a rebound off Mann’s stick cut into the lead, 3-1, with just under seven minutes remaining in the game.
Less than three minutes later, the Spartans would get another one back. Defenseman Jerad Rosburg weaved entered the offensive zone, weaving through the defense and into the slot. He laid the puck across to Lewandowski to make the game a one-goal contest, 3-2.
“When the first one went in, I was nervous then,” Pearson said. “Second one goes in and you have to stay positive. You have to keep your bench calm and positive and I think that’s the biggest thing. I knew we were in a dogfight.”
The comeback fell short for Michigan State, though. Redshirt sophomore Luke Morgan and freshman Nolan Moyle scored empty net goals in the final two minutes to push the lead to 5-2.
For the third consecutive season now, the Wolverines are taking home the “Iron D” trophy. But more importantly for Michigan, it now sits alone in second place, three points ahead of third-place Minnesota.
“It was a huge weekend for the team,” Pearson said. “A big weekend. Anytime you play Michigan State it’s a huge weekend but with the implications of the Big Ten standings and everything, I thought it was a huge weekend for our team. Now, we get to enjoy it, maybe on the bus ride home, but Tuesday we get right back at it against Notre Dame.”