EAST LANSING, Mich. — It wasn’t pretty, and it certainly wasn’t their best hockey of the season, but the Michigan State Spartans still managed to notch their eighth straight victory, downing the Miami RedHawks, 1-0, in front of 6,641 at Munn Arena Friday.
“It probably wasn’t the most entertaining game for the fans,” said Spartan forward Damon Whitten, “but we got the win.”
Whitten, a senior known more for his hustle and defense than his scoring ability, tallied the Spartans’ only goal of the night on a strange turn of events.
Rustyn Dolyny gathered a Troy Ferguson pass in the near corner. Noticing Whitten streaking toward the net with a Miami defender in hot pursuit, Dolyny centered the puck, but his pass found Whitten’s chest instead of his stick.
The forward did what he could, getting a high stick on the puck and knocking it down, but a Miami defender took his feet out. When Whitten looked up, it was in time to see the puck trickle past the goal line and into the net.
“I didn’t know it went in,” said Whitten. “I tried to punch it out of the air with my stick. After the play, the guy kind of kicked my legs out. I saw it roll into the net, and I got up and celebrated with my teammates.”
“He’s had a great year from start to finish,” said MSU coach Ron Mason of Whitten, whose goal was his 10th of the season and fifth in his last seven games. “The puck’s been going in the net for him, and he’s earned it because he’s been working hard all four years. He’s the kind of player that any coach would love to have because he finds ways to get things done.”
The Spartans’ first tally, at 19:29 of the first, was the only one either team would muster in an ugly, defensive slugfest. MSU pelted Miami goalie David Burleigh with 17 shots in the second period, but simply couldn’t slip one past him.
“We really weathered the storm in the second,” said RedHawk coach Enrico Blasi. “I thought [Burleigh] really stepped it up. I hope he continues to play well.” The goaltender finished with 25 stops on the night.
But in the end, despite an outstanding defensive effort from Burleigh and Miami, the RedHawks simply couldn’t find a hole against MSU netminder Ryan Miller, who recorded his 14th career shutout by making 17 saves on the night. The sophomore sensation is merely two whitewashes away from the all-time NCAA mark.
“People around here are really getting spoiled,” said Mason with a laugh.
“I knew it was important to keep the lead,” said Miller. “I think with their offense, if they would have gotten a goal, they could have gotten things rolling. I thought our defense did a really good job and made it especially easy for me to see the puck tonight.”
These two teams will square off again Saturday night, in the second game of a crucial CCHA series. If Friday was any indication, it should be a dogfight.
“I think tomorrow night we’re going to need to be a lot better,” said Blasi of the Spartans. “They play their system well, they’re well-coached, and they’re a good hockey team.”
“We can’t just sit back tomorrow,” agreed MSU defenseman John-Michael Liles. “We’ve got to come out flying.”
Game time is 7:05 at Munn Arena.