EAST LANSING, Mich. — In a close, tight-checking game between two quality teams, more often than not the team that gets the bounces is the one that emerges victorious.
After their meeting in the first game of the College Hockey Showcase, consider Michigan State lucky and Wisconsin snakebitten.
The No. 4 Spartans defeated the Badgers 2-1 at Munn Ice Arena on Friday in a bizarre finish to improve to 9-2-1 overall entering Sunday’s showdown with top-ranked Minnesota in East Lansing.
Wisconsin dropped to 6-5 overall and will play Michigan on Saturday night in Ann Arbor.
After the game was tied 1-1 on a first-period goal by MSU freshman center Jim Slater and a second-period tally by Wisconsin sophomore winger Rene Bourque, MSU defenseman Andrew Hutchinson scored the game-winner with 5:17 left on what might be the weirdest goal of his career.
Hutchinson skated to the side of Badger goalie Scott Kabotoff and flipped a puck into the air and into traffic in front of the net.
The puck collided with Badger defenseman Rob Vega, who was pushed to the ice by MSU center Lee Falardeau, and behind Kabotoff into the net.
Referee Duke Shegos wasted little time in signaling a goal.
The play had the Spartan locker room smiling and the Badger locker room fuming after the game.
“From what I saw, it went off my stick and up in the air and into Robbie, even though the guy was pushing Robbie into me,” said an angry Kabotoff. “Lucky, that’s the bounce you get when you’re ranked that high, I guess.”
MSU head coach Ron Mason acknowledged it was a “fluky goal,” but one that should have counted.
“Based on what we’ve seen on the video, it’s a legitimate goal,” he said. “For every one that has ever gone for me over the years, I’ve had them go against me.”
Falardeau said the play was just a matter of him charging the net like he would at any other time.
“I was trying to drive for the net and put the puck towards the net,” he said. “I knew (Hutchinson) was bringing it out, so I just drove in.”
Slater opened the scoring 3:03 into the first period when he deflected a point shot off the stick of defenseman John-Michael Liles and past Kabotoff for a 1-0 MSU lead.
With 7:45 left in the second period, the Badgers tied the game by doing something that hadn’t been done in 162:56: score on Hobey Baker-winning goalie Ryan Miller.
After taking a pass behind the net from senior captain Adam Wheeler, Bourque hit the post on his original shot from a bad angle, but found the rebound right back on his stick and put a shot underneath a sprawled Miller and into the net.
Wisconsin head coach Jeff Sauer said it was difficult adjusting to the defensive style MSU normally likes to play.
“We’re not used to this,” he said. “They don’t come at you, they don’t put a lot of pressure on you. We kept the scoring low (and) that’s what they do.”
Mason said he noticed the Badgers trying to beat the Spartans at their own game.
“They were a much more patient team tonight than (we) were, I tell you that,” he said. “Especially in the first period, they weren’t forechecking or letting us set up behind the net.”
Kabotoff, who entered the evening allowing just eight goals in his last six games, matched Miller save for save until Hutchinson’s unusual game-winner.
“At the start of the year I looked at the schedule; I saw all the Frozen Four (teams) from last year and I wanted to beat all four,” he said. “Tonight kind of ruined that dream.”