The Michigan State Hockey team (7-7-1) has had the flair for dramatics this season. Three times this year have the Spartans either taken the lead or tied the game with under five minutes remaining, most recently over the holiday weekend in a shootout victory at Penn State. Friday night’s matchup against No.4 Notre Dame (13-3-1) appeared to set itself up exactly how Michigan State wanted it for another late-game comeback. However, the Spartans could not get level after falling behind in the second period in a 3-1 losing effort.
“I thought our guys battled really hard,” said Michigan State coach Danton Cole. ” Unfortunately they got to two before we did.”
Michigan State completely controlled the period against the Irish using 20 minutes of lockdown defense to set up a late period goal and take the lead.
“I think we did a good job closing the gaps,” said Cole.
The Spartan defenseman made it a priority early to get their bodies into shooting lanes and knocked away shot after shot (seven total in the period) from Notre Dame. The Irish did not record their first shot on goal until there was six minutes remaining in the opening period. Notre Dame finished the first 20 minutes with three shots on goal compared to Michigan State’s 11 with the final one ending up in the back of the net.
The Spartans accomplished this impressive feat with the absence of one of their best defenseman, junior Zach Osburn, who was scratched with an undisclosed injury.
“That hurts,” said Cole. “He has played some really good hockey for us this year and he is really starting to understand the defenseman position.”
With :33 seconds remaining in the first period sophomore Taro Hirose notched his sixth goal of the season to put the Spartans up 1-0. Hirose, who extended his current point streak to seven games, collected a loose puck, after Brennan Sanford tried to stuff a shot past Irish goaltender Cale Morris, and lifted it into the top right corner of the net.
It took until the halfway mark of the second period for the Irish to wake up. When the Spartans gave Notre Dame an opportunity to get themselves back in the game, they flexed their muscles and pounced at the chance…or chances. The Irish scored two goals within one minute of each other to enter the final period with a 2-1 lead.
Notre Dame tied the contest with just over eight minutes remaining in the period when senior captain Jake Evans tallied his seventh goal and nation-leading 26th point of the season after tipping the puck into a wide open net when it fell right at his skates coming off of the post. Cal Burke scored his team leading eight goal of the season just 1:32 after the Irish had tied the game. Burke, with the help of Cam Morrison who screened MSU goaltender John Lethemon, found a gap at the top left corner on the net and buried the shot to give Notre Dame their first lead.
The Irish maintained their one goal lead with less than three minutes remaining. It almost seemed like a perfect scenario for the Spartans to sneak in a goal with a couple of minutes left to send the game into overtime.
However Notre Dame did not let it get to that point. A third goal with 2:18 remaining silenced any chance of a comeback from the Spartans. Freshman Colin Theisen, who made his first trip back home (Monroe, MI) since joining the Irish, skated down the right side of the ice, while being shoulder-to-shoulder with a defender, muscled in a game-clinching goal past Lethemon.
Lethemon stopped 15 of the Irish’s 18 shots in the game while Notre Dame’s Morris ended the contest on an 18 shot save streak while finishing the game with 29 overall on Michigan State’s 30 shots.
No.4 Notre Dame will take their nation-leading ten game winning streak (their first of its kind since the 2009 season) into Saturday night’s weekend final at Munn Ice Arena as the Spartans go for a series split.