COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ron Mason’s first game in Value City Arena was a huge success. Not only did No. 1 Michigan State beat Ohio State 5-2, but the locals made him feel welcome.
Mason quipped, “There was a fan right next to us telling us Michigan sucks, and we agreed with him.”
Brian Maloney notched two power-play goals, including the game-winner, and Joe Blackburn made 25 stops in his second start of the season as the Spartans downed the Buckeyes in their first meeting of the season.
Troy Ferguson and Joe Markusen each had a goal and an assist for the Michigan State. Buckeye R.J. Umberger tallied one and added a helper, and Mike Betz made 29 shots in the loss.
“This was an interesting game for us to play tonight,” said Mason. “When you lock up a league championship, you’re really concerned about the next game you play. We did it two years ago, locked it up early, and the next night we lost five to one. But some of the guys who were on that team are on this team, and we talked about it before the game to try to give us … some semblance of organization and discipline and some jump tonight.
“I thought we started the game extremely well, so I was pleased with the way the kids played.”
Michigan State outshot Ohio State 18-6 in the first period, registering two goals before the Buckeyes could get close to the Spartan net.
Ferguson started things off for the Spartans at 6:52, half a minute after Betz stymied the Michigan State sophomore with a spectacular diving, fetal-position save. Andrew Hutchinson shot from the right point, drawing Betz — and every Buckeye defender — to Hutchinson’s side of the action. The rebound went left, where Ferguson was waiting to drive it home.
The Spartans took a 2-0 lead at 11:09, when Markusen fired a cross-crease pass from left to right to John Nail, whose short-side shot gave Betz no time to react.
The third Buckeye shot on goal put Ohio State on the scoreboard, when Umberger picked up Nick Ganga’s rebound at 17:30, bringing the Bucks to within one at the end of one.
“We were obviously standing around in the first period,” said Ohio State head coach John Markell. “We had a bunch of kids who hadn’t played against the number-one team in the nation before, and they didn’t quite know what to expect. I think there’s a little bit of a respect factor there, that we maybe gave them too much.”
In the second period, J.F. Dufour tied it for Ohio State at 8:44 with his 14th goal of the season. Scott May won the faceoff for the Buckeyes in Michigan State’s right circle and passed to Umberger at the near point. Umberger shot, and Blackburn couldn’t control the rebound, which bounced around in the crease. Brad Fast, in an attempt to clear, poked the puck toward Dufour, who poked it in between Blackburn and the right post.
Michigan State again took the lead at 11:47, when Maloney capitalized on the Spartans’ third power play of the contest. With Ganga in the box — his 49th and 50th penalty minutes of the season — Maloney got one over Betz’s glove, fed by John-Michael Liles. The second period ended with a 3-2 MSU lead.
At 2:46 in the third, Markusen added the insurance goal, muscling his way into the Buckeye zone and beating Betz clean from the left point. Maloney’s second goal of the night at 16:12 gave the Spartans a three-goal cushion.
“In the second period, we generated some chances. I thought we had our moments,” said Markell. “With a team like that, we’re going to have to try to get a lead, and try to play with it because once they got the lead…it was tough.”
Mason said his decision to start Blackburn was merely to keep the senior sharp and give Ryan Miller a night off.
“Joe Blackburn has been working hard all year,” said Mason. “He doesn’t put up quite the numbers in practice that Ryan Miller does, and that’s the reason Ryan Miller plays. Ryan’s been on a real hot streak all year long. Let’s face it, if I can give him a rest, that’s good.
“I’ll come back with Miller. He’s been playing so much that I can’t take a weekend off, without him playing. He’ll play tomorrow night.”
The Spartans were 2-for-4 on the power play, while keeping the Buckeyes scoreless in three chances. With the win, Michigan State improves to 26-4-4 (19-4-3 CCHA), while Ohio State is 16-13-2 (13-10-2 CCHA).
The teams face off again at 7:05 Saturday night in Value City Arena for their last regular-season meeting of this campaign.