EAST LANSING, Mich. — In front of a record-breaking crowd at Munn Arena, Michigan State put together an impressive 3-1 win over archrival Michigan Thursday night.
The victory capped a very special and emotional evening for the Spartans involved, as the game began with a moving ceremony honoring the Spartans’ six seniors. Andrew Bogle, Sean Patchell, John Nail, Joe Blackburn, Rustyn Dolyny and Damon Whitten took turns skating laps around the ice, and the appreciative home crowd surrounded the players with thunderous applause.
“It was awesome,” said Whitten. “I was little worried about how I’d play with the emotions of the night, being Senior Night, but it was fun to celebrate, to make the lap.
“I know Mike York said he started crying at the end of the game, and I almost had a little tear before the game, but I got through it. I’ll never forget this night the rest of my life. It was such a nice night, to be able to share it with the family and fans. It was really special.”
Whatever apprehension the Spartans possessed before the game faded with the drop of the puck. MSU controlled play from the outset, pounding Michigan goalie Josh Blackburn relentlessly throughout the first period. The Wolverine netminder came up time and time again, though, making a handful of unbelievable saves to keep the game scoreless.
“To tell you the truth, I thought Blackburn kept them in the game early on,” said MSU coach Ron Mason. “We played well in the first, but I thought we hit a dip in the second. Michigan was dictating the pace at the start of the second period.”
With the junior goaltender’s prowess keeping the score tied early, Michigan was able to pick up play in the second. The Wolverines came out of the locker room with fire, but midway through the period, the Spartans delivered a crushing blow to their momentum.
With UM forward Jeff Koch in the box for cross-checking, MSU defenseman Brad Fast beat Blackburn five-hole for the Spartans’ opening tally. It was Fast’s fourth marker of the season, and it gave the nation’s number-one team a lead they would never relinquish.
Troy Ferguson extended the lead to 2-0 less than five minutes later, netting his fourth of the season at the 14:50 mark. Whitten instigated the goal, muscling the puck away from Michigan defenseman Mike Komisarek near center ice and carrying it up the near side. Although Blackburn was able to deflect the senior’s shot, Ferguson was in perfect position to bang home the rebound.
“We were fortunate to get the first goal,” said Mason, “and when you’re at home, that’s just critical. When we got the second goal, that gave us the stability we needed, and I thought our kids played real well.”
From there, it was obvious the Wolverines were rattled. Even sure-handed Blackburn mishandled a couple routine saves in the period’s closing minutes, and as Michigan headed to the locker room trailing 2-0, the momentum heavily in MSU’s favor.
Brian Maloney tacked on number three for the Spartans three minutes into the third, netting his 12th of the season on a Dolyny rebound. With Michigan’s Jay Vanick and Bob Gassoff in the box, MSU took advantage of a 5-on-3 to bury its second power-play tally of the night.
With just over five minutes to play, the Wolverines were finally able to get on the board. Mike Cammalleri slammed home his 22nd tally of the season, scoring on a rebound from Geoff Koch. The late marker ruined MSU goalie Ryan Miller’s bid for career shutout number 18.
On the night, the netminder turned aside 31 of the 32 shots he faced, and was again named the game’s number-one star. Ferguson led the offense with a goal and an assist, and Whitten pitched in a pair of helpers as well.
For Michigan, Blackburn was able to stop 28 shots in the losing effort.
“It was a great hockey game,” said Mason. “Like I said before, Michigan has a heck of a hockey team and played like it tonight.”
Mason pointed to special teams as the primary reason for his team’s success.
“Special teams were key again in this game,” he said. “We got a couple of power-play goals, and that made the difference of course. But we played our game, they played theirs.”
Patchell was content with the way the Spartans performed. “I was really proud of our team tonight,” he said. “We just showed that we can come out and play Michigan hard. It was an emotional night, and we stuck to our game plan and it worked out.”
Dolyny agreed, adding that it was important to focus on the opponent rather than the occasion.
“We separated the fact that it was senior night, and there’s a lot of things going on,” he said. “Then we come out in a big game against Michigan and we perform well and we win the game, I think that’s what’s most important.”
Mason added that he thought the game was great for college hockey.
“I think the people in the building tonight can really appreciate two programs that are top programs in the country,” he said. “It’s great for our league and great for the state of Michigan.”
Both the Spartans and Wolverines will host first-round action in the CCHA playoffs next weekend. Dates and times are yet to be announced.