EAST LANSING, Mich. — As expected, Saturday night’s game between Michigan State and Northern Michigan was better than Friday’s.
For diehard fans, the outcome — the Wildcats earned a 6-5 overtime victory, in a close game after being embarrassed the night before — wouldn’t be surprising. It happened both times these two teams met last year during the regular season.
This time, with the score tied at 3, the Spartans got Ash Goldie’s second tally late in the second period and then an early goal in the third, a wicked A.J. Thelen slapshot that seemed to give the Spartans the edge they needed.
It didn’t turn out that way.
With eight and a half minutes left in the game, NMU freshman Rob Lehtinen’s shot trickled through Spartan goaltender Matt Migliaccio’s pads to narrow the MSU lead to one.
Then, with 2.1 seconds left on the clock, netminder Craig Kowalski pulled and despite several chances for the Spartans at the empty net, Wildcat Kevin Gardner tied the game on a mad scramble in front to send the game into overtime.
In the overtime, NMU’s good fortune continued: the Wildcats caught Migliaccio out of position as he went to play the puck behind the net and scored on a virtually empty net to earn the split, even after another apparent goal was disallowed because referee Stephen McInchak froze the play.
Wildcats head coach Walt Kyle was happy about his team’s improvement. “Obviously I would have been happy with the effort even if we had lost. We got a great effort from our guys. We needed to respond tonight. The guys played well. We’ve had lapses, and we had some tonight, but at the end we were resilient. That’s what we had to be.”
Spartan head coach Rick Comley was disappointed in the outcome, considering his team had a two-goal lead going into the last ten minutes. “It was a bad loss. The way it was going, it looked like every shot was going to go in the net. Just too many bad goals by them. They played well; I thought we overcame it, I thought we had the game in control, and then three very soft goals went in.”
The game started much the same, with the Spartans out to establish their game early, while the Wildcats did the same. Of course, in a span of 37 seconds, both teams had been whistled for minor penalties, and the Spartans were the first to get rid of the goose egg on the scoreboard.
While shorthanded, Spartan junior forward Lee Falardeau received a pass from junior forward Kevin Estrada, who has been carrying the Spartan hot stick lately, and tipped it between the right post and senior ‘Cats goaltender Craig Kowalski’s left shoulder to give the Spartans the lead just over two minutes in.
The next 12 minutes were full of up-and-down-the-ice action and penalties, and then the ‘Cats came up with the puck on a wild scramble in front of the net and thought they had scored to pull the game even, but the goal was disallowed when it was ruled that the puck never crossed the goal line.
The ruling didn’t matter to the ‘Cats, because two minutes later, they scored one that counted. With Spartan freshman defenseman A.J. Thelen in the box for tripping, ‘Cats’ junior Kevin Gardner came up with a rebound in the right faceoff circle and slammed it home past a sprawling Migliaccio to knot the game at one.
The Spartans had the last laugh of the first period, however, as junior forward Brock Radunske’s shot sat in front of the crease and Goldie skated in unchallenged to shoot the puck past an unsuspecting Kowalski.
The second period was spent mostly in the Spartan defensive zone as the Wildcats refused to go away quietly. In fact, for a little while, it looked as if the game would stay the way it was at 2-1.
Then the Spartans sustained two minor penalties at the same time, giving the Wildcats a two-man advantage for two minutes. The ‘Cats made them pay as they scored a goal just ten seconds into the two-man advantage as Dirk Southern picked up the loose puck on the left side of the net to jam it past Migliaccio.
The Spartans got one man back, but the ‘Cats didn’t let that bother them, as forward Alan Swanson was in the right place at the right time to pick up the long rebound off Migliaccio’s glove and shoot it past the out of position Spartan goalie.
The Spartans mounted a comeback as Mike Lalonde skated from behind the net and took a bad-angle shot that made it under Kowalski to tie the game.
The Wildcats have two games against the Miami RedHawks at home next weekend and the Spartans play their last nonconference series against Massachusetts-Lowell with the puck set to drop at 7:05.