DETROIT — As is often the case with the heated Michigan-Michigan State rivalry, neither team was willing to give an inch. Saturday, for the second night in a row, Michigan State used some late-game heroics to force a stalemate.
Though not as dramatic as Drew Miller’s tying-goal with 1.3 seconds left Friday evening, freshman Jim McKenzie drew MSU even with just 3:18 left on the clock to earn a 1-1 tie before a sellout crowd at Joe Louis Arena.
McKenzie and the Spartans were the beneficiaries of some puck luck in scoring the equalizer for the second consecutive night. With the clock winding down, defenseman Chris Snavely collected the puck at the point and fired a low shot on Michigan goaltender Al Montoya. The shot never actually made it through all the traffic, but Ash Goldie found the loose puck in the low slot and wheeled it around on net. Montoya extended his pad to make the save, but it bounced right to McKenzie who slid the puck past the keeper and into the empty net.
Although both teams walk away with two points, the Spartans will take some big positives out of the weekend, coming from behind two nights in a row to find the equalizer in the final minutes of the game.
“I think that our players feel like nobody would have given us a chance to tie both games going in. It’s funny that two points are two points, but these ties are better than a split,” said Comley. “We were able to get a point in their building, and then in a building where you’d love to come back to.
“Some stigmas are getting eliminated. Up until the last couple weeks, we’ve lost every game that we haven’t scored first. We’re evolving – that’s how I look at our hockey team.”
Dominic Vicari’s impressive play in net kept Michigan State in the game both nights, but tonight was particularly impressive. The report on Vicari coming into the weekend was that he was feeling sick, but very few people expected that it would be the only word used to accurately describe some of the saves he’d make.
“If you saw Kolarik’s chance, you know that’s as good as it gets,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “It hit his blocker so you can say that he saved it, but on shots like that you barely have enough time to even move. It was a great save and I’m sure it’ll look good on video.”
Said Vicari, “I felt pretty sharp, and the pucks were hitting me. I know that on their power play they like to throw the puck back door down low, so I knew there was a guy there and I managed to get over there as fast as I could and I was able to make the save.”
Comley was thankful for his goalie all weekend.
“He was outstanding and his numbers have always been good as the 11 shutouts would show you, but this weekend he’s been able to take that and turn it into points,” said Comley. “This weekend he won two points; he’s made enough good saves that we were able to get a tie each night.”
Vicari finished with 41 saves on 42 shots on Saturday, bringing his totals to 84 saves on 87 shots and one vote for defensive player of the week.
“There’s no doubt in my mind he should be defensive player of the week,” said Spartan captain Jim Slater. “He made key saves when he had to; he was on his game and if he can do that every single night we can go a long way.”
Michigan, trying to keep a leg up in the race for the CCHA regular season title, saw this weekend as a blown opportunity to not only deliver a knockout blow to its most bitter rival but also to walk away with four highly-coveted points.
“If you looked at the third-period shots and scoring chances, there was no comparison,” said Berenson. “Sometimes it doesn’t always show up in the scoreboard and that’s what you saw tonight.
“I know our players are frustrated tonight by the results that we didn’t get this weekend. We were really disappointed about last night, that was a tough game to lose. We’re not playing to lose, not playing to tie; we’re playing to win and we played well enough to win. We could have easily had two or three goals and the game would have been over.”
Despite giving up McKenzie’s goal, the Wolverines might have had their biggest opportunity to reclaim the lead when MSU’s Colton Fretter was whistled for a holding penalty with 44 ticks left on the clock. Although Michigan came up empty-handed in regulation, the Wolverines had the benefit of opening the extra frame on the man advantage.
While mustering a handful of quality chances, including Kolarik’s on the doorstep, Michigan could not find the game winner.
Not to be overshadowed by his counterpart, Montoya had a solid game in net for Michigan. Although he only faced 23 shots, he was forced to play the puck quite often and looked sharp.
“Michigan State dumped the puck into the zone all night, he did a great job handling the puck, getting the puck out of the zone, and keeping it out of the net,” said Berenson.
Michigan gained a 1-0 lead at 5:18 of the second period when MSU defenseman A.J. Thelen threw a check in the neutral zone to break up a possible rush but got caught up ice. Wolverine defenseman Jason Dest recognized his fellow rearguard’s mistake and recollected the puck, sending it across ice to Kevin Porter, who raced in on Vicari and slid a pass at the last second to captain Eric Nystrom for the tap-in.
MSU might have produced its best scoring chance by accident when Bryan Lerg leapt to glove down a puck in front of Montoya, but ended up deflecting it off the keeper and into the back of the net. The goal, although creative, was disallowed for a gloved redirection.
Both teams will look to take their entertaining and well-played hockey into next weekend as the Spartans travel to Fairbanks while Michigan matches up with UNO.