Michigan State splits weekend series versus Michigan in top-15 matchup

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Emily Martin

In a much anticipated rivalry weekend, No. 7 Michigan State took on No. 15 University of Michigan, with Michigan State hosting the Wolverines at Munn Ice Arena Friday night and then traveling to Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor on Saturday night. Michigan State took their first conference loss since October on Friday, falling by a score of 7-1. With the confidence of the fans and the team, MSU bounced back and defeated Michigan in enemy territory Saturday evening, finishing with a score of 7-5. 

To start off the first period on Friday night, graduate forward Reed Lebster found a breakaway path through the Wolverines defense but was just shy of the net. The first half of the opening period was strong for the Spartans, finding multiple breakaway opportunities and a few near- perfect setups between senior captain and defenceman Nash Nienhuis, fifth-year forward Nico Muller, and sophomore forward Joey Larson. 

The first goal of the night went to U of M at the 12-minute mark, followed by two more goals shortly after for the Wolverines. Both teams skated with intensity, but U of M took the lead by three at the end of the first period. 

Over the remaining two periods, U of M put four more past the Spartans, approaching a Wolverine shutout. 12:40 into the final period, Muller got the puck into the net for MSU, crushing U of M’s shutout hopes. 

The tension on the first night continued to grow, leading to multiple brawls and a glimpse of a yard sale. By the end of the game, both teams had accumulated a hefty amount of penalty minutes.

After suffering the devastating loss on Friday night, it was up to the Spartans to bounce back in a big way in Ann Arbor on Saturday.  

Similar to the night before, U of M took the first goal during Saturday’s game nine and a half minutes into the first period, but the Spartans were able to return the favor at the 16-minute mark with a power play goal by freshman defenceman Artyom Levshunov, assisted by Muller and sophomore forward Joey Larson – a line that has shined bright for Michigan State recently. 

The rival teams were tied up at the end of the first period, going into the second period with positive energy and the focus to be better than the night before. 

“It’s never about the score you know, we want to keep getting better and get to our game,” head coach Adam Nightingale said. “We have a good team and the key there is team, it’s not about one guy, we got to play team hockey.”

For the second 20 minutes of play, the Wolverines put up three consecutive goals in the first 10 minutes, but Michigan State refused to give the opposition much satisfaction for long. Two Spartan goals made it into the net within two minutes of each other, with the first of the set going to sophomore forward Isaac Howard, and the other going to Muller. It wasn’t quite enough for them to take the lead, but they cut their deficit to one with 7:41 left in the second period. 

The Spartans came back to tie the Wolverines at four at 15:56 with a goal in front of the net by freshman forward Gavin O’Connell, assisted by Levshunov and Nienhuis.

“We don’t play the scoreboard, it’s next shift mentality for us and making sure we go out there and keep playing the right way,” O’Connell said. “We knew it was eventually going to end up in their net, that’s how it happened and we’re pumped about it.”

Completing the comeback was the goal, and MSU claimed another just two minutes later with a goal by senior forward Jeremy Davidson, assisted by Muller. This made for four goals in one period for MSU as they took the lead 5-4 going into the final period. 

MSU came off much more dialed in during the final two periods. Muller netted his second goal of the night and third of the weekend after ending the Wolverines’ shutout hopes the night before. 

“It feels really good, it’s always tough, we had a lot of expectations even yesterday but it didn’t go our way […] but it even feels better being at Yost,” Muller said.

With a little less than four minutes remaining in the game, Larson lit the lamp with an empty netter from the far center of the attacking zone, bringing the score to 7-4. With only two minutes remaining, the Wolverines drilled another one, but not enough to take the lead. The clock ran out and the Spartans defeated the Wolverines 7-5 after a rough first game in the rivalry series. 

“The biggest thing is to believe in our hockey, the spartan way and that’s what we did I think,” Muller added. “…You got to give credit to them [Michigan], but I think it’s really good and shows character that we came back.” 

Michigan State started to shy away from the low shots-on-goal count, ending the game with 30 total shots on goal, compared to U of M with 48. 

The Spartans will take the ice next on Jan. 26 and 27 against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Munn Ice Arena, with puck drop set at 6 pm and 4 pm.

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