EAST LANSING, Mich. — Things are starting to look more normal around Munn Ice Arena for Michigan State fans.
A potent offense, solid goaltending, outstanding special teams and more importantly, wins, are starting to surface again after being conspicuously absent all season.
The Spartans ran their winning streak to five games on Saturday, beating Nebraska-Omaha, 7-0, for their second straight sweep.
After finding itself in 10th place in the CCHA standings two weeks ago, Michigan State has moved into a four-way tie for fourth place.
“We needed a streak to get back in the hunt and we’re back in it now,” said MSU head coach Rick Comley. “Everybody else knows we’ve come together a little bit and instead of being very confident playing against us, I think they’re going to have questions.”
Sophomore center Jim Slater continued his torrid play with five points (one goal, four assists), senior forward Brian Maloney and freshman forward David Booth each scored twice, while senior defenseman John-Michael Liles and sophomore forward Kevin Estrada each added goals for MSU (13-9-1, 9-6-0 CCHA).
It’s no coincidence that much of the Spartans’ resurgence has to do with Slater, who has 14 points in his last seven games.
“His value has gone up,” Comley said. “It’s getting to where if he doesn’t score, we don’t have much of a chance.”
The Spartans scored three goals in a 1:37 minute span on Friday night, and ironically that figure was the time of the first goal of the game, as Booth tipped a point shot from Liles past UNO goalie Brian Haaland for a 1-0 MSU lead.
In an almost identical play on another Spartan power play, Liles made it 2-0 MSU when he fired a point shot through a Booth screen and behind Haaland with 11:45 left in the first.
MSU made it 3-0 with 25.3 seconds left in the first when Estrada fired a shot from the left faceoff circle above Haaland’s glove and just underneath crossbar.
The Spartans resumed their onslaught on a Maverick power play in the second when Maloney took a loose puck near center ice and broke in all alone on Haaland, beating the Maverick goalie up high for a 4-0 lead with 17:27 left in the second.
Maloney made it two in a row when he got loose in front of Haaland and took a shot that beat him stickside for a 5-0 MSU lead with 12:22 left in the second.
Having given so much all night, Slater received a breakaway on Haaland with 3:14 left in the second and capitalized with a high shot above Haaland’s shoulder for a 6-0 Spartan margin.
Booth rounded out the scoring with 13:05 left in the game to give MSU the touchdown margin of victory.
For Nebraska-Omaha, the series against the Spartans was just another setback on the injury front in a year full of them.
Already without defensemen Greg Zanon, Brett Davis and Chris Claffey, the Mavericks (8-13-3, 6-11-1) played without junior forward and second-leading point getter Andrew Wong and junior goalie Dan Ellis after both were injured in Friday’s 5-2 loss to the Spartans.
Wong is out one-to-three weeks after spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee, while Ellis sat out Saturday after experiencing cramps in his legs.
“It’s been an ongoing saga for us all year long,” UNO head coach Mike Kemp said of the injuries. “This was just one more setback and that’s been frustrating. It does take a toll on the locker room.”