EAST LANSING, Mich. — Forty-two seconds was all the time required for the game between the Michigan State Spartans and the UMass-Lowell River Hawks to be decided Friday.
With freshman goaltender Dominic Vicari — freshly returned from the World Junior Championships — pitching his second shutout in a row and third of the season, the Spartans skated to a 2-0 victory in their last non-conference game of the regular season.
The Spartans were out to establish themselves early.
Just over 11 minutes into the initial period, Spartan defenseman A.J. Thelen let a blistering shot go from the left point that was stopped by Lowell junior netminder Chris Davidson, but the rebound was corralled by Lee Falardeau, who slid it into the back of the net for the Spartans’ first tally of the evening.
Just 42 seconds later, Spartan freshman Chris Lawrence sailed a short pass onto the stick of junior forward Adam Nightingale, who tipped it over the sprawling Davidson to give the Spartans the two-goal cushion.
Junior forward Ash Goldie looked to make it 3-0 with a nice wrister from between the faceoff circles, but his shot hit the crossbar and bounced away from Spartan sticks.
Three minutes into the second, the River Hawks had their best chance to start gaining ground, when sophomore forward Danny O’Brien found the puck on his stick with no one between him and Spartan netminder Dominic Vicari, but Vicari managed to make the save.
Then, with about nine minutes left in the period, Brad King and Cleve Kinley found themselves with an odd-man rush deep in the zone, but King’s pass missed Kinley’s stick, so the egg remained on the River Hawks’ side of the scoreboard.
The Spartans had a chance late in the second, with sophomore forward David Booth and captain Jim Slater on a two-on-one that turned into a two-on-none when the defender slipped while trying to keep up with the speed demons, but Booth’s pass missed Slater’s stick to keep the score at 2-0.
The third period momentum meter was again tipped in favor of the River Hawks, who finally gained the advantage in shots but were still unable to solve Vicari.
The Spartans had another chance to add to their lead with exactly five minutes left in the game, on their first power-play of the evening, when Kevin Estrada came up with the puck behind the net, then tried to grab the puck out of the air with his glove, but it ended up bouncing off his hand and into the net, a no-goal.
It wouldn’t matter, because the River Hawks saw their best opportunities stopped again and again by Vicari, who was at times shaky, but made the biggest saves at the right times.
The shutout was the third the River Hawks have suffered this season, marking the first time in the history of the program that has happened.
“I thought we played very well at times,” River Hawks coach Blaise MacDonald said. “We just failed to have a consistent effort at making fundamental plays and getting the puck deep. Take away the 45 seconds and we’re still playing.”
“I was very impressed how Michigan State played with the lead. They had great numbers back, made it difficult for us to generate offense.”
“I thought Dom [Vicari] was obviously very, very steady — he handled the puck so well,” Spartan coach Rick Comley said. “I thought we had a good start to the hockey game — they skate well, I thought the two teams were very well matched, and I would expect much of the same tomorrow.
“You always want to score again, and you don’t want to sit back on something, and I think there’s a fine line between sitting on it and continuing to play without taking chances.”
His team’s biggest game of the weekend is yet to come, Comley said. “We’ve had this opportunity to get over the hump several times, and we haven’t put two together since October 31 and November 1, I think. You can’t go all year splitting, or obviously you’re a .500 team.
“That’s what we talked about in the locker room immediately after. It only means something if we can win tomorrow.”
The Spartans get their chance to put together a sweep and the River Hawks look to pull even in the series Saturday night at 7:05 p.m.