Michigan State’s last goal saved the Wolverines’ weekend.
Just a minute and 38 seconds away from being swept for the first time this season, the Michigan hockey team escaped with a 2-2 tie Saturday against the defending National Champions when the Spartans’ Matt Schepke knocked the puck into his own net.
The late goal was the Wolverines’ lone lucky break this weekend. After a 1-0 loss Friday, No. 1 Michigan (15-2-1 CCHA, 22-3-1 overall) fell out of first place in the CCHA standings.
It was the first time the Wolverines lost a series all season.
As Michigan State defenseman Mike Ratchuk protected the crease, freshman Matt Rust’s crosscheck sent Ratchuk to the ice. The puck deflected off Rust’s stick and Schepke batted the puck past goalie Jeff Lerg to spoil the Spartans’ chances for two wins against the Wolverines.
“I think he grabbed it with his hand, actually, and threw it into the net,” Rust said. “It was pretty lucky. I’ll take it, and our team will take it.”
Michigan State coach Rick Comley felt the goal was more than just luck.
“Obviously, Ratchuk was cross-checked from behind, and there should have been a penalty, but they didn’t see it,” Comley said. “If they didn’t see it, then they can’t make a call.”
But the rest of Saturday’s game didn’t lack penalty calls. The hostility between the Wolverines and fifth-ranked Spartans surfaced early as the teams tallied five combined penalties in the first two minutes – four of them for roughing after the whistle.
After Saturday’s first period, Michigan State led 10-3 in shots and controlled the pace of the game. But a little more than six and a half minutes into the middle stanza, freshman Max Pacioretty took a backhand pass from senior Chad Kolarik and wristed the puck into the net to give the Wolverines their first and only lead of the weekend.
Five minutes later, all the momentum from Pacioretty’s goal was lost after penalties to defenseman Mark Mitera and Rust were dished out 27 seconds apart. With the two-man advantage, the Spartans needed just 46 seconds to score two power-play goals.
Comley said the Wolverines were “fortunate” to escape with one point.
But Rust felt Michigan clearly outplayed the Spartans at even strength Saturday, and Michigan coach Red Berenson seemed to agree.
“We easily could have won the game,” Berenson said. “I’m not thinking about the tie – more so the effort.”
In Friday’s loss, in which the only goal was scored early in the first period on an ugly poke past Michigan goalie Billy Sauer, the Wolverines were outhit and outworked in front of a raucous Yost Arena crowd.
And for a team that has survived on gritty plays and occasional lucky breaks, Friday’s disappointment spoiled the weekend.
“It’s embarrassing, is what it is,” Kolarik said after the loss. “This is our only home game against Michigan State this year, and we lose it. It’s so frustrating. We talked about it all week that we had to win this one game, if anything.”