EAST LANSING, Mich. — It’s hard enough for an underdog to beat a highly-ranked opponent on the road, but it’s even harder when a that underdog spends most of the first period in the penalty box watching the opposition celebrate power-play goals.
But that’s exactly what happened to UMass-Amherst on Friday night, as Michigan State scored three goals, two on the power play, in the first 15 minutes of the game en route to an easy 6-1 win at Munn Ice Arena.
MSU improved to 6-2-1 overall while UMass dropped to 3-4.
The Minutemen, in particular, watched MSU senior captain Adam Hall celebrate three goals on the night, his first career hat trick.
“Adam Hall is just consummate leader in the locker room, in the classroom (and) on the ice in practice, and it’s nice to see him display that,” said MSU head coach Ron Mason.
In what might go down as one of the shortest power plays in MSU history, Hall opened the scoring when he deflected junior defenseman John-Michael Liles’ point shot on a power-play five seconds after Minutemen defenseman Samuli Jalkanen was sent to the box for obstruction-hooking to put the Spartans up 1-0 3:51 into the period.
MSU’s second power play of the night produced Hall’s second goal of the period and fifth of the season, when he camped in front of Minuteman goalie Mike Johnson, took a perfect pass from junior forward Brian Maloney and beat Johnson on the glove side for his 100th career point and a 2-0 MSU lead at 7:28 of the period.
Poor defensive-zone coverage was a problem all night for the Minutemen, no play being a better example than when defenseman Brad Fast skated in unabated on Johnson from the blue line after an innocent faceoff, beating him to make it 3-0 MSU with 5:43 left in the period.
“We just didn’t pick up coverage off the faceoff,” said UMASS-Amherst head coach Don Cahoon. “All fundamental-type things that we’ve spent a lot of time on and just broke down on.”
Hall completed the hat trick at 14:10 of the second period when he skated in on the wing and put one past Johnson’s glove side to make it 4-0 MSU.
Freshman Brock Radunske scored with 5:36 left in the second, putting a rebound of freshman Jim Slater’s shot into a wide-open net, and Hall added an assist to his three goals on a pass in the slot to a wide-open Liles, who slipped one by a fallen Johnson to make it 6-0 5:34 into the third period.
It appeared as if MSU goalie Ryan Miller was on his way to yet another shutout, but he got tangled behind the net on a clearing attempt with 10:41 left in the game, which left an open net for Minuteman sophomore center Thomas Pock to make it 6-1.
A minute and a half later, Mason pulled Miller to give backup goalie Matt Migliaccio some work over the final nine minutes.
After the game, even Mason seemed surprised by how careless the Minutemen were in their own end.
“It makes you appreciate how good we are in our zone,” he said. “That doesn’t happen often to us and we’re proud of the fact we play well in our own end.”
The way his team lost was especially disappointing to Cahoon, who said it was starting to make significant strides.
“We played a better team and the better team won the game,” he said. “Up to this point, we felt like we were fairly competitive and able to play teams tough enough to make games out of it. I think we lost our focus there for a while (and) just took ourselves out of the game.”
Hall said while he was happy to achieve his first hat trick, he was more pleased with how MSU stayed focused throughout the game despite building a big lead.
“I think games like this are as much a test for our team as playoff-type games with Michigan in a one-goal game, because when you get a couple goals up, then you find out what kind of a team it is,” he said. “Do your guys try and stickhandle and go through the other team by yourself, or do you stick together? And I think the guys did a good job of that tonight.”