ANN ARBOR, Mich. — After winning its first game at Michigan State’s Munn Ice Arena since January of 2000 on Thursday night, No. 2 Michigan found itself in a situation few expected Saturday night in the rematch at the friendly confines of Yost Ice Arena.
Michigan State’s Jim Slater scored just 30 seconds into the game and the Spartans’ blitzkrieg gave them a 4-3 lead after the first period. However, the Wolverines used two second-period goals and stingy defense to steal the win.
“I think everybody expected a close game and a low-scoring game between these two teams, from these two goalies, and it just got away from that,” Michigan head coach Red Berenson said.
“I can’t tell you it got away from the game plan but, I don’t think anyone expected them to score in the first minute of the game, the first shift. Then we scored a couple of minutes later and that’s how it went. Too many, too many mistakes but, it was classic college hockey.”
With the Wolverines still down 4-3 midway through the second, sophomore T.J. Hensick tied the game in what has become his style — brilliant puck-handling that led to a beautiful goal. And it was his second such goal of the night.
Michigan defenseman Eric Werner brought the puck up the right wing on an odd-man rush and appeared to pass the puck to Mike Brown on the far wing. Neither the defense nor Brown expected Hensick to sprint up the middle and take the pass. But that’s just what he did before faking back and forth and beating Michigan State goalie Dominic Vicari around his right pad.
“I thought the player of the game, for me, was T.J. Hensick,” Berenson said. “He just took over the game at times. A kid like that he’s just 18 years old he just took charge of that game.”
Less than two minutes later, Michigan senior captain Eric Nystrom finished another three-on-two rush by firing a shot over Vicari’s glove into top-right corner of the net.
“Getting (the game-winning goal) was nice considering I was out there for three (of MSU’s) goals in the first,” Nystrom said. “It seemed like we weren’t getting any of those breaks and everything was just going in (for MSU). I was getting pretty down on myself and luckily I got that one chance to a difference I had a clean-cut shot so that felt good.”
After taking the lead, Michigan tightened down on defense and limited Michigan State’s scoring chances.
“I thought early in the game, they were getting the defense really active up in the rush and we countered that with really good scoring chances,” Michigan State head coach Rick Comley said. “I thought their defensemen backed off from joining the rush in the second period. Then they got the lead and they got really tight defensively.”
Now playing with the lead, Michigan goalie Al Montoya kept the Spartans off the board for the rest of the game.
“Monty stepped up big, too, in the second and third,” Hensick said. “He was a big part of us coming back. He kept us in the game for a long time for us to get some momentum going. Give a lot of credit to him for that defensive stand in the second and third.”
Although they haven’t played as many traditional series in past years as most rivals, the weekend sweep was Michigan’s first over the Spartans since February of 1992.
“It feels so much better for the team to win those two games,” Nystrom said. “Especially going into a tough environment at Munn on the road and then coming from behind tonight in our own building — it doesn’t get any better than that.”
After Slater opened the scoring in the first, Michigan tied the game just 1:45 later with heavy pressure on Vicari. Brandon Kaleniecki’s shot was the last of three Wolverine blasts from just outside the crease, but it snuck through Vicari’s pads before Vicari himself knocked it in with his glove.
Milan Gajic gave the Wolverines the lead when he found himself all alone on the doorstep after a shot by Kaleniecki ricocheted off Vicari’s facemask at 5:09 in the period.
The Spartans took a 3-2 lead on back-to-back goals by sophomore Drew Miller. Miller’s second gave MSU a short-lived advantage on a textbook three-on-two breakaway, where Miller was one on one with Montoya. Miller faked left to his forehand, then redirected the puck between the still-standing Montoya’s skates.
Exactly 1:30 later, Hensick unleashed his first breathtaking goal. Taking the puck from behind his own net, Hensick darted up through center ice where he met up with teammate Chad Kolarik.
The two crossed paths, which freed Hensick. Hensick charged hard from the right on Vicari, faked to the right with his forehand, hit the brakes and carried the puck across the crease and deposited it into the empty net.
“You can’t do that very often, but it’s a treat for the fans and even the players on his team,” Berenson said of the coast-to-coast goal. “They’re amazed at what he can do from time to time. That was good for him to show that he can be good not only in most games, but in big games. These are big games.”
The excitement was short-lived for the home fans, as just 1:29 later MSU’s Ash Goldie beat Montoya high on the glove side for a pretty power-play goal that gave the Spartans their 4-3 advantage.
For the Spartans, it was tough to lose both games, especially after their first period Saturday night.
“It’s not that we’re playing horribly,” Comley said. “I really think we’re playing okay. I know it doesn’t show in our record but, now we’re going to Minnesota and Wisconsin for some really tough games. We just have to try to keep our head on our shoulders and get a win out there. Then we’ll get back to our conference games and I still believe that before it’s all said and done that we’ll be okay.”
With the win, Berenson moved into a tie for ninth place on college hockey’s all-time win list with legendary Army coach Jack Riley.
Both teams will head west to Wisconsin and Minnesota for a pair of games each as a part of the 12th annual College Hockey Showcase on November 26-27.