By Greg Garno, Daily Sports Editor
Published January 23, 2014
DETROIT — Phil Di Giuseppe stood near the top of the crease, looking to somehow break a 1-1 tie.
As the clock ticked down in a flurry of waving sticks, the junior forward watched the puck trickle toward him. He slapped the bouncing puck with the backhand of his stick, but was stopped as he’d been stopped all night on all six of his previous shots.
But this time, he got another chance on a rebound off the pad of Michigan State goaltender Jake Hildebrand. Di Giuseppe knocked in the rebound and celebrated accordingly, pumping his fist, jumping and lifting his arms before he was swarmed by his teammates after he put his team up one with two minutes left.
Di Giuseppe’s eight shots, the final of which finally found twine, propelled the No. 14 Michigan hockey team to a 2-1 victory over the Spartans on Thursday at Joe Louis Arena. The two teams will finish the series tomorrow in East Lansing.
Freshman forward JT Compher added the other goal, and freshman netminder Zach Nagelvoort made 32 saves to snap a four-game losing streak that dated back to the Great Lakes Invitational in December.
“It’s a great relief,” Di Giuseppe said. “We haven’t played many games, so it’s hard to get out of a slump. And against a team like that and at ‘The Joe,’ it feels good.”
Added Michigan coach Red Berenson: “I thought we played harder on the puck and stronger on our feet.”
Di Giuseppe joined a new line with sophomore forwards Andrew Copp and Boo Nieves, finishing with the most shots (13) of any Michigan line on the night.
Compher, who has been recovering from the flu for the past week, scored his seventh goal of the season thanks to a lucky bounce. As he tried to pass to junior forward Alex Guptill as he crashed the net, Compher’s pass deflected off a skate and back to his stick for an easy tap-in.
But Michigan State brought itself back early in the third period when forward Joe Cox’s shot in the slot was deflected by teammate Michael Ferrantino to tie the game. It was Nagelvoort’s only blunder in an otherwise stellar performance.
In their first game in two weeks since being swept by Wisconsin, the Wolverines looked slow out of the gate, nearly falling behind in the first 30 seconds.
But they received an early break courtesy of the officials when the whistle blew a play dead as the Spartans knocked the puck past Nagelvoort, who couldn’t fully cover it after a tough shot.
“The ref came up to me and said, ‘You owe me one there,’ “ a smiling Nagelvoort said. “So, I’ll take it.”
But the Spartans were repaid as a series of unlucky bounces, great saves and shots that went just wide stymied the Wolverines for the rest of the first period.
Hildebrand stood calm and composed, spreading his glove out to the corner of the net midway through the first period to take away a goal from Di Giuseppe. Michigan found more space near the opposing crease, harassing Hildebrand all night long.
“It wasn’t just a grinding game,” Berenson said. “There were a lot of rushes, turnovers, outnumbered rushes and just-about goals. Typical Michigan-Michigan State.”
Hildebrand’s counterpart, Nagelvoort, wasn’t needed to make the flashy saves, but he stopped the shots he needed to in his third consecutive start since alternating with sophomore Steve Racine. The defense and penalty kill that played in front of him — which has looked suspect and disorganized in the past four games — quietly finished with a solid game, holding off every penalty the Wolverines took.
“The ‘D’ did a really good job tonight, making sure I could see everything in front of me,” Nagelvoort said. “If I could go my whole career without ever losing to (Michigan) State, that would be phenomenal.
“Tomorrow will be fun.”