When the Michigan hockey team’s offense is on cue, it’s one of the most explosive units in the country.
But the Wolverines never found their rhythm this weekend in a 1-0 loss and 2-2 tie against Michigan State.
Seniors Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik usually lead the way on offense. The dynamic duo has usually executed with near-flawless precision this season using crisp passing and smooth puck movement to crash scoring opportunity for their team.
But the Wolverines never adjusted to Michigan State’s speed this weekend. The Spartans intercepted pass after pass inside their own zone, keeping the Michigan offense off-balance all weekend. With little time in the offensive zone, the Wolverines never found their groove.
“They always had three or four guys back, so it’s tough to get your offense going,” Porter said.
Michigan State held Michigan to just three shots on goal in the first period of Saturday night’s game.
“We’ve got to get more pucks to the net,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “There was a point in the game where we hardly got a shot at (goalie Jeff) Lerg.”
Even when the Wolverines broke through the stout Spartan defense, they still had to face Lerg, who’s been lights-out since the start of the new year.
The junior goaltender came into the weekend with three consecutive CCHA Goalie of the Week honors. He turned in a performance against Michigan that should win him a fourth.
Special team woes: The Spartans won the special teams battle, often the difference in close games. All three of Michigan State’s goals came on the power play. The Spartans’ penalty kill unit also held the Wolverines to just one man-advantage goal.
After a fight broke out in the Michigan zone during Saturday night’s contest, Michigan State found itself with a two-man advantage. Forty-six seconds later, the Spartans had tallied two goals and sent Munn Ice Arena into a frenzy.
Even though the Michigan penalty kill was shaky at times, goalie Billy Sauer put the Wolverines in a position to win. Sauer made many near-impossible saves to shut down the Spartan pressure, especially in Saturday’s overtime period.
After a Michigan penalty less than a minute into overtime, Michigan State made a fierce charge in the Wolverine zone. Sprawled on his back, Sauer wheeled his body around, narrowly deflecting a sure game-winner.
“(Sauer) has been unbelievable,” Porter said. “To give up three goals in a weekend and still have a loss and a tie is unfortunate.”
No closure: In a rivalry game as intense as Michigan-Michigan State, a tie doesn’t relieve any of the pressure that builds up over the weekend.
The fans, players and coaches were all left unhappy Saturday night after a stressful five-minute overtime period.
“Obviously, it leaves a bad taste in our mouths,” Michigan State coach Rick Comley said. “But it was a hard fought game, much different than (Friday) night.”
The Michigan locker room wasn’t much happier.
“Maybe that goal was lucky,” Porter said of the game-tying goal. “But to come out with a tie, I don’t feel lucky.”