EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State’s senior assistant captain, Tim Crowder, closed on the Miami net at the beginning of the third period. His team down 4-1, he slung a stinging shot at the net, hoping to change the momentum in the game.
Easy snap-glove save for Miami’s freshman goaltender, Cody Reichard.
That was pretty much the story of the night as No. 10 Miami easily defeated No. 17 Michigan State in a brutal game filled with 40 penalties and 16 power plays. The RedHawks cruised on the strength of three second period goals, including two power-play tallies, to stifle the slumping Spartans.
With the win, Miami improves its season record to 5-3-3, while Michigan State falls to 4-5-2.
“I thought our power play and our PK did a great job all night long,” said Miami coach Enrico Blasi. “We got fortunate on one of them, and that’s way it goes.”
Reichard turned in an outstanding game, stopping 27 shots to help frustrate the Spartans into 20 penalties. While some saves were routine, there were a number of acrobatic, impressive saves at key moments which kept the night belonging to Miami all the way.
As a result, Michigan State was 0-for-8 on the power play tonight.
“Guys were blocking shots and clearing them out,” said Reichard. “Everyone did a great job. It’s my job to make a big save when the team needs it.”
For the Spartans, this was a disappointing game coming off two straight losses at Ohio State last weekend. Hoping to right the ship, they took an early lead but went downhill from there.
Perhaps it was clear early in the game how the night would go for both teams.
Michigan State had the first good chance to score in the game when they earned a 5-on-3 opportunity for 35 seconds, but they lost the face off in Miami’s zone and Reichard made a key, five-hole stop to kill the two-man advantage.
And then, just like that, both teams had equal good and bad fortune.
The home team got on the board first, when a scrum in front of the visiting net kicked the puck out to the left side. Michigan State senior center Matt Schepke was alone and in right place at the right time to put the easy score in the net. Sophomore wing Corey Tropp got the assist.
Miami tied the score 14 seconds later when Spartans senior goaltender Jeff Lerg lost track of the puck after a save. As the puck danced on the ice right behind him in the crease, RedHawks sophomore center Pat Cannone was able to push the puck into the net for the tying tally.
“I thought we did a good job killing the five-on-three early in the first period,” Blasi said. “Once they scored, we scored right away. I thought that was real big for our team, especially on the road. You want to answer right back.”
Tension on the ice between these two feisty rivals elevated to matching penalties with 7:47 left in the period. In the ensuing 4-on-4 stretch, there were considerably less sparks, however.
But the period also saw an apparent Michigan State goal wiped out by an interference call for hitting Reichard in the crease, and the two teams continued to hit each other very hard — including a good non-call where two players (one from each team) went barreling into Reichard on a Michigan State rush to the net.
Nevertheless, the teams ended the first period tied at one, setting the stage for the brawling to come.
“Our guys did a good job of keeping Michigan State to the outside, for the most part,” Blasi said. “That’s kind of been a way we’ve played over the last five weeks. We’ve been a little inconsistent, but I thought tonight, for the most part, we played hard for 60 minutes.”
Miami took their first lead of the game at 4:30 of the second period, when senior defenseman Ray Eichenlaub netted a power-play goal for the RedHawks. Sophomore Andy Miele assisted on the score, and Miami never looked back despite the rough and snippy play continued between the two teams deep into the second period.
Officials called penalty after penalty, but it didn’t deter either squad from trying to punish the other physically. Perhaps the rough play distracted the Spartans, because very soon Miami extended its lead to 3-1 with 5:03 left in the period. Lerg came out of the net, and his clearing attempt was extremely unsuccessful. From the boards, RedHawks senior captain Brian Kaufman was able to firmly wrist the puck past Lerg and into the net for the goal.
Miami added another goal to make it 4-1, when senior wing Justin Mercier beat Lerg with 3:33 left in the second period. This was followed by more penalties against both teams, sealing the transition from a hockey game to a silly scrum on the ice — all to Miami’s benefit as they built their lead by taking advantage of Michigan State’s mistakes.
Pretty soon, the RedHawks had a 4-on-3 advantage for their sixth power-play opportunity on the night. But Lerg made a diving stop to his left with 1:39 in the second period left to keep Michigan State only three goals down. This was little consolation to the Spartans, who desperately need a win to right their season before it’s too late.
“Bottom line is you have to come to play and you got to come to play hard and play for 60 minutes,” Blasi said. “We know they’re going to do the same, so we’re focused on trying to play our best hockey tomorrow night.”
The two teams resume play Saturday night at Munn Arena, starting at 7:05 p.m.