After Michigan State’s 4-2 upset of No. 16 Penn State, both the Spartans’ coach Danton Cole and Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said that the way each team played in the first period determined the outcome of the game.
“I thought our guys were ready right from the get-go,” said Cole. “That’s something we’d talked a little bit about in terms of prep work. That’s very identifiable for staff and people that are around. You can just tell the emotion when we’re there. That’s something the young guys have to learn. You can’t just show up and play. The teams in the Big Ten are real good.
“That’s probably the thing we’re happiest about tonight. I just thought the way we played right off the jump, that’s something we have to do. We can’t take too many minutes and ease our way into it. We’re not good enough to do that.”
On the other side of the ice, Gadowsky said that the Nittany Lions started slowly and never recovered. “I thought we had a very poor first period, certainly in terms of the results we tried to achieve outside of the score – the score as well,” said Gadowsky. “We didn’t have a very good first period at all.”
The Nittany Lions trailed 2-1 after the first. The Spartans jumped out to an early lead on freshman fourth-liner Brody Stevens’ first career goal at 2:05, but Penn State’s Nate Sucese answered at 5:54 to tie the game. Mitchell Lewandowski gave the Spartans their second lead of the night at 9:07, a beautiful setup from linemates Patrick Khodorenko and Taro Hirose. The Spartans outshot the Nittany Lions 14-7 in the first.
“Maybe you can look back and say we had the week off and we were a little sluggish, but I personally don’t buy that,” said Gadowsky. “For whatever reason, I thought that Michigan State had a much, much, much, much better first period than we did. Although we came back in the second and played well, we dug ourselves a hole and that’s the ballgame.”
Lewandowski scored his second of the night on the Michigan State power play at 14:26 in the second, the goal that held up to be the game-winner. The Nittany Lions drew to within one at 16:58 in third when Nikita Pavlychev scored on the power play and with goaltender Peyton Jones pulled for a two-man advantage, but Hirose hit the empty net at 18:30 for the final goal of the night.
“I thought the composure was good,” said Cole. “The guys didn’t panic. They kept winning draws. They kept covering. They kept blocking shots. They were real calm on the bench. They were real good even when that second goal was scored. They got back out there and went at it for the end of the game. I thought they did an excellent job.”
While the Spartans (11-18-2, 5-14-2-1 B1G) are all but guaranteed a last-place finish in the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions are still trying to finish among the top four teams in the conference to earn home ice in the first round of the league playoffs. That is more challenging after tonight’s loss; entering the game, Penn State was just four points behind fourth-place Minnesota, but the Golden Gophers beat Ohio State and gained three points tonight.
Penn State (13-13-5, 6-10-5-2 B1G) and Michigan State face off again in Munn Ice Arena Saturday at 5:05 p.m. Gadowsky said that his team has some adjustments to make for the rematch.
“We have to come out better. Our first period was terrible, for whatever reason. We didn’t play well at all. I didn’t like our mentality and I didn’t like our results. Right now, we’re in the position where we don’t have the luxury of taking a period off. For us, this is go time, and what I’d like to see is for us to start that way right from the drop of the puck.”