EAST LANSING, Mich. — With two power-play goals within 16 seconds in the opening minutes of the final period, the Michigan State Spartans beat the UMass-Lowell River Hawks, 2-1, rebounding after a 3-0 loss Thursday.
“We’ve had a lot of big wins here over the last three years,” said MSU head coach Rick Comley, “but this one for this team is really important.”
Important because of the 11 newcomers to the Spartan squad, the low shot total in Thursday’s loss, and the nearly 104 minutes of scoreless hockey forced by Lowell goaltender, Carter Hutton.
“I think it was a very big win,” said senior forward Kurt Kivisto, who played his first game of the season tonight. “We improved our work level, and that’s one thing that Coach really stressed this morning. If we improve our work level and keep that energy level high we’ll keep developing as a team and we’ll keep getting better.”
With so many freshmen on the team, it’s hard not to have a night of firsts early in the season. The game marked the first appearance of and win for rookie goaltender Drew Palmisano, and his classmate, Ben Warda, scored the goal that got the Spartans on the board at 3:53 in the third. Senior Tim Crowder had the game-winner at 4:09.
After nearly two scoreless periods of hockey, the River Hawks took advantage of a Spartan mistake to take a 1-0 lead with less than two seconds remaining at the end of the second period. Paul Worthington intercepted an MSU pass in the corner to the left of Palmisano and tipped to Ben Holmstrom, who centered out to Kory Falite, who circled back toward the net when the puck was turned over and scored on the fly, midway up on the left side to give Lowell the lead going into the locker room.
But a goal that should have given the River Hawks all the momentum to seal the game in the third gave the Spartans the motivation they needed. Lowell quickly found itself down two men Jason DeLuca and Holmstrom were each called for tripping at 2:15 and 3:26, respectively, and it didn’t take long for the Spartans to convert on each power play. Warda’s goal came when he popped in classmate Andrew Conboy’s big rebound, and Crowder drove home the puck that rookie Tim Buttery fired off the back dashers 16 seconds later.
Comley said that “it was almost like it was the goal” that reversed MSU’s fortunes in this second game of the set. “Overall we played pretty darned well, as far as work ethic. Offense has been so difficult for us, confidence, than all of a sudden, it took off.”
Even though the game was scoreless through nearly 40 minutes, Kivisto said that registering 12 shots on goal in the first was enough to show the difference between last night — when MSU registered 16 total shots for the game — and tonight.
“That definitely got our confidence up,” said Kivisto. “Even though we didn’t put the puck in the net we were generating some scoring chances. I don’t know what our total shots were last night, but I know we came close to it there in the first period.”
“Give Michigan State credit. They had an outstanding bounce-back game tonight,” said River Hawk head coach Blaise MacDonald. “They had a lot of energy and intensity tonight and energy means a lot. They capitalized on those third-period penalties that got called. That five-on-three was huge and one fortunate bounce off the boards and that’s the game.”
Hutton ended the night with 34 saves on 36 MSU shots and Lowell went 0-for-7 on the power play. The Spartans were 2-for-5, and Palmisano, who said that he knew after last night’s game that he’d start today, had 21 saves in his first win.
“I was up a lot of the night, but I got a good nap in today, which helped,” said Palmisano. “It means a lot for the first win at home, especially, and we struggled last night. Just get the first win under my belt and go from there.
“I felt really relaxed in there. Our defense did a really good job, and then our forwards did a really good job playing most of the game down in their end, which made my job a lot easier.”
Tonight’s game marked just the third time that senior captain Jeff Lerg had not started since earning the starting in January of 2005-06.
“It was a little bit of a gamble to play [Palmisano] I guess,” said Comley, “but I’m committed to play him seven or eight times. I’ve got to put him in the net. My fear a little bit was that these kids were relying so much on Jeff. They had to prove to themselves that they can win without him. I hope, but there’s no guarantee that’s going to happen.”
Both the River Hawks (1-2-0) and the Spartans (2-2-0) open league play on their home rinks next weekend. For Lowell, Providence comes to town for a single game Friday, October 24. Michigan State hosts Northern Michigan next Friday and Saturday.