Michigan drops Spartans, 5-1, at Yost Ice Arena

Paul Sherman/Daily
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Daily Sports Writer
Published November 9, 2012

Fixing something that doesn’t need to be fixed can sometimes backfire.

But Michigan coach Red Berenson changed just enough to remedy an ailing defense but didn’t drastically alter a potent Wolverine offense on Friday night, and the No. 12 Michigan hockey team defeated Michigan State, 5-1, at Yost Ice Arena.

After Michigan struggled to keep the puck out of its own net against Northern Michigan last weekend, Berenson switched up his lines against the Spartans. Despite the Wolverines top-ranked scoring offense in the CCHA, the change seemed to give the offense even more firepower, as Michigan notched the first two goals of the game in the first period.

“We’ve got a bunch of good forwards so (changing the lines) didn’t really matter, but it’s kind of a wakeup call,” said junior forward Derek DeBlois. “We need to get going. We’ve had a few bad games and it’s nice to switch up and turn it around and get some momentum playing State.”

Just less than seven minutes into the game, senior forward Lindsay Sparks blasted a slapshot past Michigan State goalie Will Yanakeff from the left circle. It was Sparks’ third goal of the season and Friday was his first time playing on the line with freshman Justin Selman and sophomore Zach Hyman.

With 9:40 left in the period, freshman forward Cristoval “Boo” Nieves scored a rebound goal on a wide-open net. The play was reviewed because of what appeared to be contact with Yanakeff by freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba, but the goal stood, giving Michigan a 2-0 advantage and Nieves his first career goal.

The Wolverines dominated play in the first period, allowing just five Spartan shots — none of which were difficult saves for freshman goalie Jared Rutledge — and tallying 15 of their own.

As good as the offense has been, the defense has been the exact opposite — the unit has allowed 3.5 goals per game, good for second-to-last in the conference. But the switch in the forwards seemed to be just what the doctor ordered for the struggling defense.

“We just felt that we weren’t getting any enough defensive responsibility, and we needed more offense as well,” Berenson was a factor in the shift in lines.

Berenson has said all year that the amount of easy goals allowed wasn’t just a result of the defensemen, but a lack of communication and missed assignments by the entire team. That didn’t seem to be an issue for Michigan on Friday.

Even in the second period, when Michigan State had a few more offensive chances, the defense was there to clear out the puck before Rutledge was truly tested. But with 36.4 seconds left in the period, the Spartans finally got on the board when forward Kevin Walrod’s backhander sneaked past Rutledge. The goal was more of an impressive play by Walrod than it was a defensive lapse.

“We got over confident and they pushed back (in the second period),” Berenson said. “They came out and they had fire in their eyes and they started to win some races and battles.”

The late goal also gave Michigan State the momentum going into the final frame. But the Wolverines took that momentum back when DeBlois tallied his second goal of the season with 15:51 remaining in the game to give Michigan a safe 3-1 lead.

With seven minutes remaining, the Wolverines successfully killed a Trouba penalty. Immediately after his release from the sin bin, he helped Michigan tally its fourth goal of the game on an assist from senior forward Kevin Lynch.

And it still wasn’t over. Trouba rounded out the scoring with a rocket past Yanakeff for a power-play goal with two minutes remaining. It was the freshman’s third goal of the season.

Rutledge’s 28 saves on 29 shots was enough to earn him his first victory in net on the year. He has been splitting time between the pipes with fellow freshman netminder Steve Racine so far this season.

“It’s always huge to get your first win in college hockey,” DeBlois said about Rutledge’s performance. “It’s like scoring your first goal. It’s huge that he had a great game. I thought the defense played well but anytime we needed a big save he stepped up.”

The Wolverines’ victory on Friday night continued a winning streak against the Spartans at Yost that goes back to Nov. 13, 2009.