KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Michigan State must wish every road game were played on the opposing team’s Senior Night.
One week after ruining No. 8 Michigan’s Senior Night in Ann Arbor, Mich., the Spartans (20-13-2, 16-10-1 CCHA) spoiled Western Michigan’s Senior Night festivities, 4-0, in front of a capacity crowd of 3,726 at Lawson Ice Arena behind a smothering defense and sophomore netminder Matt Migliaccio’s 19 saves. Migliaccio earned his fifth career shutout with the victory to raise his record to 18-9-2 on the season.
WMU head coach Jim Culhane gave credit to the young netminder for the shutout.
“I think the whole Spartan team played well in front of him. He made some key saves for them and he had a little luck on his side, here and there, but give him credit. He got the shutout, we couldn’t get it by him, and I thought he played very well.”
“(Migliaccio’s) getting experience,” said MSU head coach Rick Comley. “Even though he’s a sophomore, he didn’t play much last year except for one hockey game, but he’s getting into some big games right now, and tonight, he played very well.”
WMU starting goaltender, freshman Scott Foster, was pulled in favor of sophomore netminder Mike Mantua after allowing two goals on seven shots in the first 7:25 of the game. Mantua was stellar in relief, stopping 27 of 28 shots.
The Spartans also dominated on the offensive front, peppering the WMU goaltending tandem with 36 shots on the night, including outshooting the Broncos 28-16 after two periods.
The Broncos failed to take advantage of a MSU squad that was 2-6-1 in Kalamazoo, Mich., since the 1995-96 season to clinch home ice for the first round of the CCHA playoffs. With Notre Dame’s 4-3 victory at Northern Michigan Friday, the Broncos must defeat MSU at Munn Ice Arena Saturday, where the Broncos are 0-10-3 in the last nine seasons, to earn home ice.
“It’s a must win,” said Culhane. “If we want to be at home, we have to win, and it’s not going to be easy. You look at our record at Munn; it hasn’t been great. This is a huge challenge for us … If we win, we play at home. If we don’t, then we’re at the mercy of what happens around the league.”
Western Michigan (15-18-2, 13-13-1) returned to midseason form by coming out of the gate slow, and it cost the Broncos dearly. Falardeau’s seventh goal of the season proved to be the game-winner at 4:17 of the first period. The Midland, Mich., native extended his goal scoring streak to five games by taking a rebound off WMU freshman netminder Scott Foster and deflecting it off a Bronco skater into the far side of the net to put the Spartans up 1-0.
The Broncos struggled with puck control all night, and Culhane duly noted that.
“We can’t turn the puck over at the offensive blue line. If you turn it over, it’s an odd-man rush the other way. We didn’t do a good job protecting the puck and making a good decision, whether we turn it over and look for the drop pass, or whatever, it ends up coming back the other way because of it. We have to do a good job protecting the puck, being strong, and getting it deep. As the game went along we did a better job, but the start of the game killed us.”
“Again, when you look back at the start of the game, them jumping on us right away, and us standing around, (it) cost us the game.”
Freshman forward Colton Fretter gave MSU a 2-0 lead a little more than three minutes following Falardeau’s tally. Fretter recorded his sixth goal of the season by taking a wraparound pass across the slot from senior captain Brad Fast and depositing the puck past Foster at 7:25 of the first period. Fast extended his scoring streak to a career-high 10 games with the assist.
MSU senior forward Brian Maloney recorded his 14th goal of the season late in the opening period at 17:47 by collecting a loose puck in the crease and scoring after WMU sophomore netminder Mantua strayed out of the net to challenge a shot by MSU sophomore forward Brock Radunske. Maloney’s goal put the Spartans up 3-0 at the end of the first period.
Radunske now has six assists over his last five contests.
Comley spoke about how MSU has rebounded from a Christmas record of 8-8-1.
“Brian Maloney has come alive. He’s been a tremendous player…(and) I think sometimes a highly touted group of freshmen take a while to start to play well. Certainly, we have better balance, right now, where they are more used to me and our style of play, and they are playing better.”
Fretter ruined Mantua’s relief shutout effort by recording his second goal of the contest, this time on the power play, at 18:42 of the third period. Fretter redirected a pass from sophomore forward Ash Goldie past Mantua to bring the game to it’s final score of 4-0.
Culhane discussed his conversation with the team during the first intermission.
“We talked about a lot of things we talked about all week: getting the puck deep, forechecking, skating with the puck as a defense corps, and then making good decisions with the puck on the cycle. A lot of the things we talked about during the week we ended up doing in the second and third period, but we couldn’t buy a goal. A lot of things we talked about we did in the last 40 minutes of the game, but we spotted them three goals before we started to do those things, and it cost us the game.”
The excellent defensive effort by the Spartans reminded many fans of the defense-first approach taken by former head coach and current athletic director Ron Mason.
“Don’t forget, I played for him,” said Comley. “I’ve always believed in good defense, but I also believe in good offense. We’re trying to find that happy medium, right now.”
The two teams meet in the season finale for both schools, Saturday, in East Lansing, Mich.