DETROIT — Michigan State entered the game riding a three-game losing streak. Michigan Tech had even more at stake, having lost their last 12 in a row. Something had to give in the third place game at the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament at Joe Louis Arena Thursday afternoon.
Kevin Walrod’s first two career goals and a rare start by freshman goaltender Will Yanakeff spurred the Spartans to a 5-3 streak-breaking win, sending tournament host Michigan Tech to a disappointing 13th straight loss.
As they had done in their opening round loss to Michigan less than 24 hours previously, Michigan Tech battled back gamely, never letting Michigan State out of their sight. In the end, the Spartans offense and simply defensive strategy won the day.
Although Yanakeff grabbed the win for the Spartans, Michigan Tech goaltender Josh Robinson faced his second straight game of 40-plus shots, turning aside 41 Spartans attempts of the 46 he encountered.
Aaron Pietila led the offensive charge for the Huskies with a pair of goals.
“Any win’s a good win right now,” said Michigan State head coach Rick Comley. “I thought overall we played pretty well. I thought Wallie (Walrod) picked us up. We’ll take anything right now.”
“The defense kept it simple,” Spartan captain Torey Krug said. “Growing up, you’re told your job as a defenseman is to just make the outlet pass to the forwards. I think, for the most part, the defense did that. That’s why we were so successful.
“We are all excited Will got the start. Guys may have been sacrificing their bodies a little more, blocking shots.”
Robinson was peppered with 17 shots by the Spartans right from the start of the first period, but held the Huskies within reach of Michigan State.
The Spartans struck first on Walrod’s career first goal, but Michigan Tech countered near the period’s end to skate off tied, 1-1.
Outshooting the Huskies by a substantial margin, the Spartans finally beat Robinson at 13:42 when Walrod redirected Matt Crandell’s shot from the left point under Robinson’s glove.
At 17:22, Michigan Tech pulled even at 1-1 when sophomore forward Pietila grabbed a loose puck alone in front of Yanakeff, shifted the disc to his backhand and slid it between the Spartan goaltender’s legs.
Michigan State continued to pelt Robinson with rubber in the second period, logging 23 shots on goal, two of which found their mark. Michigan Tech added one of their own to stay within one goal of the Spartans, 3-2.
Early in the middle frame, the teams traded similar odd goals, both initiated from behind the net.
Spartan forward Dean Chelios picked up the puck behind the Husky goal at 2:39 and swept a shot with a wrap-around move. The puck pinballed in front and found an opening past Robinson.
Just over two minutes later, a centering shot from behind the Husky net hit Yanakeff’s stick in the crease. As the freshman Spartan netminder reached down to cover the puck, Jacob Johnstone swiped it into the net with a backhand stab, knotting the score at 2-2.
The Spartans regained the lead late in the second period at 16:35 on a pretty looking one-timer from the slot by Brett Perlini, set up by a pass from the left half-boards by Jake Chelios.
Dustin Gazley extended the Michigan State lead to 4-2 at 5:13 of the third period, tipping the puck over Robinson, but Pietila gamely brought the Huskies right back at 7:51 lifting a backhand over Yanakeff.
Walrod put the game further out of reach at 15:13 of the final period with his second of the game, this one from his knees with a backhand from the right of the Michigan Tech net.
“We’re a team that has good size and are very aggressive,” pointed out Michigan Tech head coach Jamie Russell. “I didn’t think we had a lot of jump with the quick turnaround, playing the late game last night.
“We’re a team that thrives on the forecheck and I didn’t think we had a lot of legs tonight.”
Comley hopefully suggested that “we’re just trying to move forward.”
“In practice, we feel like we’re getting better,” said the Spartan mentor. “We didn’t have a lot to show for it. We know there’s talent in the room.”
Michigan State (7-10-3) missed a potential match up with rival Michigan during the GLI, but remedies that with a home-and-home set of games with the Wolverines next weekend.
Michigan Tech (3-13-2) travels to St. Cloud St. next weekend for a pair against their WCHA rival looking to finally break their winless skid.