EAST LANSING, Mich. — Despite missing six starters, No. 8 Michigan State continues to find a way to win hockey games. The opportunistic Spartans jumped out to a 3-0 lead early in the second period and never looked back en route to a 5-0 shutout and sweep of 14th-ranked Northern Michigan.
“I think we felt pretty early that we were a good team, but the question was whether we could play over the massive injuries,” said MSU head coach Rick Comley. “You would never predict the record we have now, but we’ve played pretty darn good.”
“Last night [in a 5-4 overtime win], I thought we played very nervous and maybe not believing that we had the type of lineup that could win, and tonight they came out of the gates strong,” said Comley.
Several unlikely faces were responsible for MSU’s goal-scoring outburst. Chris Lawrence, Zak McClellan, and Daniel Sturges gave the Spartans a huge lift and a 2-0 lead.
“The line played how we want to play, and the kids on the bench were so excited for that line that they were screaming at each other to play like them. When your team wants to play like your fourth line then that’s pretty good,” said Comley.
Utilizing a low, grinding cycle, the line — comprised almost entirely of walk-ons — created a scrum in front of the net, allowing McClellan to slide his first collegiate goal underneath Bill Zaniboni.
Just minutes later, Bryan Lerg expended the lead to 3-0 on another broken play. Zaniboni seemed sure that he had trapped the puck, but it had trickled behind the net. Lerg was fast to the loose puck and wrapped it into the net before the goaltender could react.
For the second night in a row, Zaniboni struggled mightily. After the Lerg tally, head coach Walt Kyle pulled his star keeper in favor of freshman Derek Jansen.
“We needed something to try to get us going,” said Kyle. “I thought it was a bad goal; he should have had it and had a good pick at it, so I thought we would try to get some energy out of the freshman.”
MSU’s Dominic Vicari, however, rebounded after a shaky performance Friday night. The junior netminder stopped all 15 shots for his 14th career shutout
“This was one of his best performances of the year,” said Comley. “I thought Dom was as good as he was [against] North Dakota.”
While some credit goes to Vicari, Northern Michigan’s inability to score at even strength has been a weak spot, and a potential Achilles heel for the season.
“I do not attribute any of it [to being our first road trip]. We got outplayed tonight, out-coached, and out-goaltended. We just were not very good. Our best players did not show up at all,” said Kyle.
For the second time in as many nights, the Wildcats put the Spartans on a five-minute power play for checking from behind. Saturday, defenseman Zach Tarkir slammed Chris Lawrence into the end boards.
The Spartans wasted no time in jumping all over the scoreboard again. Tim Crowder pounced on a loose puck, tucking it inside the right post to give MSU what it thought to be an early lead. However, video replay once again reared its head and the goal was disallowed for not entirely crossing the line.
MSU rebounded from the tough break by scoring — for real this time — on the same power play. Colton Fretter scored a no-doubter, blasting a one-timer off of Zaniboni’s glove and into the top corner.
Michigan State poured it on in the second, extending the lead to 3-0 before the game’s midpoint on goals from McClelland and Lerg.
Crowder ended up getting his goal back, wristing a shot through Janzen’s pads to put the Spartans ahead by the 5-0 final score.