Losing to your rival always stings. But for the No. 14 Michigan hockey team (6-6-3 overall, 2-3-1-2 Big Ten), this one had to sting a little more.
In a game that was largely dominated by the Wolverines, they failed to capitalize on many scoring opportunities despite outshooting Michigan State (6-7-1 overall, 2-0-1-1 Big Ten), 40-19, and ultimately losing in a shootout after a 1-1 draw.
The Wolverines are used to playing fast –– they utilize the quickness on their roster to create opportunities in transition. Tonight, they had a difficult time creating good scoring opportunities as Michigan State continually dropped back on defense which clogged the ice and prevented transition opportunities.
“I thought we had opportunities tonight to get up on them or create a couple goals spread and then it’s a different game, but we couldn’t,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said “They played a perfect road game. They got great goaltending. Scored on the chance and then just brought guys back. That’s the way they play.”
Both sides, though, created a couple early scoring opportunities in the first period, but the chances were few and far between in what Pearson described as an “ugly game.” At the end of the opening period, Michigan had nine shots on goal compared to six for the Spartans.
Junior defenseman Nick Boka eventually opened up the scoring on one of those early opportunities. It came just over eight minutes into the first period on the power play. Boka fired a one-timer from the left slot on a pass that navigated through traffic in front of the crease from sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes who was set up in the right faceoff circle. The shot fired past Michigan State goaltender Drew DeRidder for Boka’s first goal of the season and gave the Wolverines a 1-0 lead.
Michigan looked to have all of the momentum early on in the second period, as the Spartans were unable to create any scoring chances through the first five minutes. That momentum was halted by a penalty for checking from behind on freshman defender Nick Blankenburg 5:23 into the period. About 30 seconds into the power play for Michigan State, an attempted clearance deep in the defensive zone from sophomore forward Josh Norris found a wide open forward Taro Hirose at the point. He skated forward into the slot and fired past freshman goaltender Strauss Mann to knot the score at one.
The Wolverines looked in control for the majority of the period and generated plenty of scoring opportunities as a result. Perhaps none better than on the power play with 5:42 remaining. The top defensive pairing for Michigan along with the top forward line retained possession for the entire power play but were unable to capitalize.
The shots finished 20-11 in favor of the Wolverines, but the score remained 1-1 heading into the second intermission.
In the third period, play was much more balanced in terms of scoring opportunities. Both Michigan and Michigan State had plenty of chances, including two power plays for the Wolverines and three for the Spartans. But the defenses remained stingy, jumping on loose pucks in front of the net and doing everything they could to prevent either side from getting an edge.
And for the fourth time in the last five games, the Wolverines went into overtime.
The first overtime period featured plenty of scoring chances for Michigan but its inability to score continued. Michigan State did not record a single shot in the first overtime period. More of the same ensued for three-on-three play. Michigan State
The winner of the game would be determined in a penalty shootout. Norris opened up the shootout but had his shot saved, as he failed to lift the puck above DeRidder’s left pad. It took until the fourth skater for the winner to emerge. Spartan forward Brennan Sanford slowly skated up from center ice, taking a wide angle. He skated across the slot from Mann’s left to right side and fired the puck above the goaltender’s left shoulder.
This was a frustrating loss for the Wolverines. Despite putting 40 shots on goal, Michigan failed to beat DeRidder again after the goal from Boka.
“You got to get him moving and take his eyes away,” Pearson said. “I thought Brendan Warren had him beat there in the second period and he got across and got his leg out on the key turning point. But he had a lot of puck luck too tonight. That puck is underneath him, grazing off the post, sliding off the crease. Any goalie will tell you — some nights they just go your way.
“… Well (losing tonight is) brutal. In that locker room now, you’d think we had –– that something drastic had happened. It’s tough, it’s a big rivalry and they take it seriously. They take it to heart. And we felt we deserved better, that’s the frustrating thing. We had two pretty good games and you get one point out of it. But that’s sports, that’s sports. Some nights it’s just not gonna go your way.”