MARQUETTE, Mich. — Friday night was an evening of firsts.
Midway through the second period, Michigan State forward Chris Mueller scored a goal on the first penalty shot of his life, which also happened to be the first penalty shot in the history of the Berry Events Center. And at the end of the night, the Spartans had defeated the Northern Michigan Wildcats in Marquette for the first time in four years, 3-2.
With the Spartans (8-7-1 overall, 6-5-1 CCHA) already up 1-0, Mueller secured the puck on a breakaway and barreled toward the net, only to be taken down hard from behind by Wildcat T.J. Miller. The whistle sounded and despite the fact that NMU (7-9-2, 4-6-1) was, in fact, on a power play, Mueller stood alone at center ice.
Quickly skating the puck to the net, he flung it over netminder Bill Zaniboni’s left shoulder. The puck clanged into the crossbar and proceeded to bounce off the goalie’s back and into the net to put the Spartans up by a pair. The goal was Mueller’s second of the night.
“I was just reacting to the goalie,” Mueller said. “I saw top-glove and just let my best shot go and I saw the puck hit the bar. Any way it goes in, I’m happy.”
As the contest opened, the two teams came out firing more hits than shots. In the first stanza alone there were four penalties for roughing. All told, there were 19 penalties in the contest.
“I thought we fought hard,” MSU head coach Rick Comley said. “I thought (NMU) came out with a lot of jump early and we fought through it. We had to kill a lot of penalties, but this was a pretty good road win.”
With less than a minute remaining in the first period, the NMU power-play unit was working the puck in the offensive zone. When Jim McKenzie’s penalty expired, however, NMU defenseman Zach Tarkir was unable to corral a bouncing puck in front of the box. As McKenzie took to the ice, he snatched the puck and sprinted toward the goal, where the Spartans had numbers.
Facing a 2-on-1, Zaniboni was unable to hold up and Mueller scored his sixth goal of the season to get MSU on the board first. McKenzie and Bryan Lerg picked up assists on the play and the Spartans never looked back.
“They are very, very dangerous offensively and that is the one area that we will have to correct tomorrow,” NMU head coach Walt Kyle said. “Each of their opportunities came off of turnovers and they were able to capitalize with some timely goals.”
The Wildcats cut the lead to one with just under eight minutes remaining in regulation when forward Mike Santorelli took the puck to goaltender Jeff Lerg’s left side. Santorelli flipped it to the front of the crease and into the waiting lap of Pat Bateman, who poked it in for his third goal on the season.
NMU pulled Zaniboni in the last minute in the hopes of tying the game, but Justin Abdelkader added the insurance goal on an empty net with only 42 seconds left on the clock. The goal gave the Spartans a 3-1 lead.
As the Wildcats added a power play to their empty-net advantage, they came back down ice with a six-on-four. Two seconds remained in the game when NMU defenseman Matt Maunu scored his fourth marker of the year to cement the score at 3-2.
As the Wildcats, who have now lost four straight, prepare to face the Spartans again on Saturday, they hope to carry with them a small amount of that third-period momentum.
“We went out and played hard and I thought we won the third period,” Bateman said. “If we can carry that momentum into the first period tomorrow, we should be good. We just need to make some small adjustments. We keep adjusting the little things and eventually it’s going to happen.”
The Wildcats and Spartans will both try to make it happen again on Saturday night. The puck drops in the Berry Events Center at 7:35.