EAST LANSING, Mich. – In a game between two former CCHA foes with very little difference between them, two nearly identical breakaways decided the 2-0 win for Western Michigan over Michigan State.
“I thought that the margin of error out there was small,” said Michigan State coach Tom Anastos. “They capitalized on a couple odd-man rushes that they had. We had a couple that we didn’t, and especially the timing thereof, and that resulted in the difference in the game, really.”
Nolan LaPorte and Justin Kovacs had the goals for the Broncos. After a scoreless first period, LaPorte scored at 13:08 in the second, riding the right wing to Josh Pitt’s left. Pitt drew Michigan State goaltender Jake Hildebrand to the left and dished to LaPorte, who had plenty of room to score.
Kovacs’ goal at 6:58 in the third was nearly identical. Chase Balisy was crashing left with Kovacs right; Hildebrand was drawn to defend Balisy, Balisy passed to Kovacs, Kovacs scored.
For Kovacs, a junior, the goal was the fourth of the season and the eighth of his career. Western Michigan coach Andy Murray said that it’s good to see Kovacs coming into his own early this season.
“Real nice play by Chase, and Kovy — I’m happy for him,” said Murray. “He’s been through some tough times here. I said, ‘Kovy, are you enjoying life right now? Because you know what the other side’s like.’ Now it’s a challenge for him to stay on it on a daily basis here. It’s something he’s got to do. He’s got to play that way all the time.”
The Spartans outshot the Broncos in the first period, but got into some penalty trouble in the second, giving Western Michigan a chance to warm up.
“I thought we got stronger as the game went on,” said Murray. “I thought our puck possession was good, and we made some good puck decisions tonight, took advantage of some opportunities.”
Anastos said that the three penalties Michigan State took in the second made it difficult for the Spartans to make headway.
“I thought we played a really good first period, but I thought we got out of rhythm in the second with all the penalties. They got ahead and it was kind of a different game for them to be able to play. I thought they did a good job of shutting things down defensively. We just couldn’t build any rhythm.”
For the Broncos, sophomore goaltender Lukas Hafner made 22 saves in his second start of the season. Tonight’s shutout was the fourth of his career; Hafner’s only had eight decisions as a Bronco.
In net for Michigan State, Jake Hildebrand stopped 19. The sophomore has played six of the Spartans’ nine contest.
Michigan State (3-6-0, 0-0-0 Big Ten) and Western Michigan (4-5-2, 2-2-0 NCHC) meet for the second game of this home-and-home series Saturday in Kalamazoo at 7:05 p.m.