DETROIT — Saturday afternoon’s Great Lakes Invitational semifinal found Michigan State’s defense two men short, more than a couple steps slow and playing catch-up hockey just 13 seconds into the game.
In short, it wasn’t the type of effort the Spartans needed against a revved-up Boston University squad bent on turning the GLI into Beanpot West.
“We just came out flat,” said MSU goaltender Matt Migliaccio, who was pulled after surrendering four goals during the first 14:39 of what became a 6-1 loss before 12,462 at Joe Louis Arena. “They were all over us. We were all saying before the game how great we felt, but I really don’t know what happened.
“I don’t think that was our team out there.”
In a small sense, it wasn’t. The Spartans lost blueliners Duncan Keith and Evan Shaw to Canadian major junior leagues over the holiday break, so MSU coach Rick Comley was forced to skate all of the five defensemen on his playing roster and dress senior forward Steve Clark as part of a third defensive pairing.
And while BU players said during the postgame press conference they were unaware of the departures of Keith and Shaw, the Terriers certainly played as if they knew, overwhelming the undermanned Spartans from the very start.
“The best part of this game was our team speed,” said BU coach Jack Parker, whose charges will play in the GLI championship at 5:05 p.m. Sunday. “We forechecked hard, backchecked hard. We got a couple quick goals and generated a lot of enthusiasm off that.
“But we were also pretty puck-lucky, to tell you the truth.”
Whether due to luck or skill, BU went up 1-0 just 13 seconds into the game. Freshman David VanderGulik pounced on a loose puck in the right-wing corner, warded off a defender and threw the puck in front of the net. Terrier winger John Sabo, rushing toward the right post, whacked it across the crease for Brian Collins, who flipped it over Migliaccio.
The Terriers, who entered the game with the nation’s 10th-worst power play, made it 2-0 on John Cronin’s man-up tally through Migliaccio’s five-hole at 6:19.
“We had really been struggling on our special teams, but both our power play and penalty kill did very well tonight,” said Parker, whose team was 2-for-7 on the man advantage.
The Spartans cut into BU’s lead with a power play goal of their own, as David Booth deflected a shot from John-Michael Liles past Terrier goalie Sean Fields at 9:03.
BU, though, scored twice more before the end of the period. Cronin zipped a pristine pass through the neutral zone to Frantisek Skladany, who beat Migliaccio clean at 12:02.
“That was pretty lucky, actually,” said Cronin, who had a career-high three points in the game. “I was just looking for a tip at center ice to get it into the zone for a line change, but it got onto [Skladany's] stick.
“Good puck luck.”
Less than three minutes later, Skladany, who had four points to tie his single-game best, shook MSU defender Jared Nightingale and dropped a perfect backdoor feed to Kenny Magowan, who was streaking unmarked down the left wing. Magowan — who also finished with a four-point night — whipped it through Migliaccio’s five-hole, giving the Terriers a 4-1 lead and sending Migliaccio to the showers just 14:39 into the game.
“He really struggled,” said Comley of Migliaccio, who surrendered five goals in his last start, a 5-3 loss at Ferris State Dec. 7. “He looked really good for two days [since the holiday], but they got those two quick goals and that just rattled him.”
Comley replaced Migliaccio with freshman Justin Tobe, who was perfect until a fluky goal gave BU a 5-1 28 seconds into the second period. Sabo stormed down the right wing and took a hard shot that caromed off Tobe and into the slot, where MSU forward Jim Slater was sliding back toward the net. The puck bounced off of Slater, through defenseman John-Michael Liles and past a stunned Tobe.
The Terriers made it 6-1 later in the period on Skladany’s second goal of the day, a putback of Cronin’s shot from the point, completing the scoring on a frustrating day for the Spartans, who are now 3-6-1 over their last 10 games and 7-8-1 overall.
“They were much quicker and much stronger than us,” Comley said. “Turnovers killed us. We’re trying to do too much.”
Migliaccio finished with seven saves, while Tobe stopped 22 of 24 shots in his 45:21 of work. Comley said that Tobe will be his starter in Sunday’s consolation game.
“He earned that right; I thought he played well,” Comley said, adding that decisions as to his starting goaltender will now be made on a game-to-game basis.
Fields made 28 saves for the Terriers, now 10-6-2 and riding a three-game winning streak.