ALBANY, N.Y. The mighty Michigan State hockey team got a little taste of its own medicine last night.
North Dakota, the defending national champions, jumped to an early 2-0 lead on the Spartans before locking down defensively and relying on stellar goalkeeping to shut out Michigan State, 2-0, subsequently ending its season in the Frozen Four semifinal game.
This formula has been the recipe for success for the Spartans (33-5-4) who held the No. 1 ranking for the past 19 weeks. Sporting the nation”s best team defense, a Hobey Baker Award finalist between the pipes and an honest, balanced scoring attack, Michigan State consistently took advantage of opponents” mistakes throughout the season to build a lead and then ride it to the end.
But the Spartans played terrible in the first period, admittedly their “worst period of the season” according to captain Rustyn Dolyny. Before Michigan State had a chance to blink, it was down two goals and outshot 17-7.
More importantly, it would have to play a game it was not accustomed to “catch up.”
In fact, last night marked just the third time all year the Spartans trailed 2-0. And they picked the absolute wrong time to do it.
“We definitely didn”t play our game in the first period,” Dolyny said. “They got that one goal, and I thought we sagged a bit I don”t know why.”
Although Michigan State picked up its level of play in the following two periods, it was too little, too late for the Spartans, ending their attempt to abolish their 15-year championship drought. Michigan State is 2-5 in its last seven tournament games.
Meanwhile, the usually explosive and high-scoring Fighting Sioux then got defensive, refusing to let risky odd-man rushes cost them the game, much like it has the whole season.
“The last month-and-a-half we thought we had to tighten up our defensive scheme a little bit and try not to give up anything offensively,” forward Ryan Bayda said. “We were getting three guys caught and just giving games away. We didn”t want to give our opponent odd number situations. It”s playoff time, let”s tighten up.”
And when the Spartans did create some glorious scoring opportunities, goalie Karl Goehering closed the door. Goehering steered aside 30 shots and recorded his 15th career shutout marking the first shutout loss in 62 games for the Spartans.
“North Dakota did a good job of covering up front,” Dolyny said. “We had our opportunities as the game went along, but they had an excellent game plan.”
It was the same game plan that lead the Spartans to 35 wins, CCHA regular season and tournament titles and a fourth straight Great Lakes Invitational championship.
But it was also the game plan that cost the Spartans the chance at the most coveted prize, as Michigan State was beaten at its own game. Instead of riding into the sunset as national champions, the Spartans were forced to slowly skate off the ice with their heads down after arguably the best season in program history, as fans in the Pepsi Arena chanted, “Overrated.”
Meanwhile, at the other end of the ice, the Fighting Sioux celebrated as they will have the chance tomorrow night against Boston College to make history and become the first team to repeat as national champions since Boston University accomplished the feat in 1972.
And they may have the Spartans to thank for it.