DETROIT — Every time Michigan State lit the lamp, New Hampshire quickly responded.
But the Wildcats did not have the opportunity to return the favor when senior captain Jim Slater turned and fired the puck past New Hampshire netminder Jeff Pietrasiak 4:14 into overtime, giving the Spartans a 4-3 win at the Great Lakes Invitational Wednesday.
“It feels very good (to score the winning goal), especially in a tournament like this,” Slater said. “We got a faceoff play and A.J. (Thelen) walked the blue line and made a great pass to (Mike Lalonde). (Lalonde) threw it on net and it actually hit me in the shin pad and it bounced right on my stick, I just turned and fired and beat him low.”
“Sometimes you need a game like that, in our situation, maybe to really get you going,” Michigan State head coach Rick Comley said. “You don’t want to go to overtime against a team like that, but it was good.”
The game began with a flurry of 32 shots between the two teams in the first period, but neither team could manage a goal. Both Pietrasiak and Spartan goalie Dominic Vicari played outstanding games, recording 41 and 39 saves, respectively.
Midway through the second period, however, the floodgates opened. First, a UNH goal was called off because senior Justin Aikins entered the crease before a point shot was deflected past Vicari by one of his own teammates.
MSU’s Colton Fretter scored on a point shot just seconds after a five-on-three power play expired to give the Spartans a 1-0 advantage. Just nine seconds later, Aikins atoned for his crease violation by breaking in alone and beating Vicari with a wrist shot inside the left post.
Michigan State couldn’t stand to give up the lead for long — and Lalonde gave it back to the Spartans just 51 seconds later when he took a feed from Slater and beat Pietrasiak high on the stick side.
New Hampshire evened the score at 2-2 6:20 into the third on a creative play by senior Sean Collins.
Collins broke into the Spartan zone from the right boards, spun around his defender and unleashed a shot that went wide right. Collins didn’t give up and when the puck rebounded back to the slot, he swung his body around the puck and sent a pass to Preston Callander at the far post. Callander buried the puck in the open net.
Less than five minutes after Callander’s goal, Fretter notched his second of the game. Pouncing on a loose puck at the bottom of the left circle, Fretter hacked at the puck and sent it ricocheting over a surprised Pietrasiak for a 3-2 lead.
Just according to the script, Callander needed only 48 seconds to tie the game for New Hampshire. Callander intercepted a point shot with the shaft of his stick and deflected a one-hopper between the legs of Vicari.
“I though our team battled back,” New Hampshire head coach Dick Umile said. “They kind of took it to us early in the game, the first period. We battled back in the second and especially in the third and played well.
“I thought we had an opportunity to win it. Obviously, we came out in the overtime and Michigan State was more aggressive than we were and they won a big game. I thought they played well and played a good hockey game.”
“It was back and forth,” Slater said. “We had the lead throughout the whole game and New Hampshire fought back and (kept) tying it up. It was a hard-fought game; those are the kind you want to be in.”
The win gives the Spartans their second victory over the Wildcats this season, after a 5-1 home win in October. The two wins over New Hampshire will look good on Michigan State’s record, but the Spartans feel like a snakebitten team, playing well but failing to record wins.
“I’ve tried to say all year that we’re a better team than our record,” Comley said. “We just had trouble scoring goals. We’ve played a lot of very good hockey games that we haven’t gotten wins out of. I think we’re a difficult team to play against and like I said, sometimes a game like this can really be what the doctor ordered.”
The win puts the Spartans in the championship game against archrival Michigan, which ground out a 4-2 victory over Michigan Tech with a depleted lineup.
“I think it’s a matchup everybody is going to like seeing,” Comley said. “I think it’s great for the building, great for the tournament. I thought Michigan was very courageous today. I thought (Michigan) Tech worked very hard. I thought Michigan, with a very shorthanded lineup, played really well.
“The thing you have to remember is they have a lot of quality players. They have a lot of first-choice recruits and certainly their lineup is thin, but with a guy like Red (Berenson) behind the bench and the talent they have in their lineup, it should be a great game.”
New Hampshire will have to rebound quickly after the tough overtime loss for a game with Michigan Tech, in the consolation at 4:30 Thursday afternoon. The game between the Spartans and Wolverines is set to start at 8:00 p.m. ET.