EAST LANSING, Mich.- Over the past month, the Michigan State’s Hockey team has had a non-existent and dormant offense. Over the past two weekends of hockey, the Spartans have given up nine goals in three games and countered that with just one lowly goal….no doubt their toughest stretch of a season that has seen them match their win total from 2016 in December.
Michigan State coach Danton Cole could sense an offensive explosion on the horizon.
‘We kept going to the well,” said Cole. “We played great last weekend and did not get anything out of it. It was great to play well and get the validation with the win. ”
It had to be coming soon. Well soon arrived much quicker than the Spartans had thought. Soon arrived Friday night in a 5-0 victory against Michigan.
A 4-0 drubbing just one night earlier to their in-state rival quickly became a distant memory, especially after the way Michigan State controlled the first period.
“Give our guys a lot of credit,” said Cole. “They are continuing to learn and it was a good way to finish up. That was a great way to finish us out before Christmas.”
Michigan State offense came out Friday night quicker, more determined, and more alive in a two-goal first period.
The Spartans took the lead with just over 11 minutes remaining in the opening period when Patrick Khodorenko put away his fifth goal of the season. Michigan State scored just seconds into the first power play of the game when freshman Mitchell Lewandowski won the opening face-off, passed to Taro Hirose at the point who crossed a pass to Khodorenko at the right post. Khodorenko quickly tipped the puck past Michigan goaltender Hayden Lavigne to give the Spartans a 1-0 lead.
Khodorenko’s goal also snapped an eight-period goal-less streak for Michigan State that dated back to Dec 1. against Notre Dame.
With five seconds remaining in the first period Khodorenko added his second of the game and sixth of the year to put MSU up 2-0. Lewandowski set up the goal again when he passed the puck from the goal line to Jared Rosburg at the point. Rosburg took a shot at net and Khodorenko, standing in front of the net, re-directed the puck over Lavigne’s right shoulder for the goal.
With his two first period goal’s, Khodorenko recorded his second two-goal game of his career, the first coming last season on Feb 3. against Wisconsin.
Behind one of the loudest crowds Munn Ice Arena has had in years, the Spartans added two more goals in the second period to take a 4-0 lead into the final 20 minutes.
Michigan State continued to have success on the power-play as Lewandowski scored the Spartans’ second goal on the man advantage. Midway through the second period, the Spartans used almost the exact same play off the face-off as they did to score their first goal when Carson Gatt received the puck at the right point. He slid it into the slot to Hirose who faked a shot and passed to Lewandowski in the right circle. Lewandowski rocketed a one-timer past Lavigne for his tenth goal of the season and to put the Spartans up 3-0.
“We had not had a lot of power-play reps over the past week,” said Cole. “We kinda got out of that rhythm because that has been a strong suit for us. They came out and played hard and made plays.”
The Spartans had an opportunity to make it 4-0 with eight minutes remaining in the period when Brennan Sanford was rewarded a penalty shot after Michigan’s Griffin Luce deliberately swept Sanford’s feet from under him on a breakaway. With the majority of the 6,007 fans in Munn on their feet, Sanford could not convert as the shot was hit away by an un-fooled Lavigne.
Less than two minutes later Michigan State’s Mitch Eliot did not let another chance slip by to add a fourth goal. With just under six minutes remaining in the period, Eliot hit an absolute rocket past Lavigne for his second goal of the season. Forward Cody Milan controlled the puck on the left boards and found Eliot who skated from the blue line into wide-open ice at the left face-off circle.
To put the cherry on top of the cake, Logan Lambdin scored his second goal of the season, four minutes into the third period, on the man advantage, MSU’s third power-play goal of the game, to give the Spartans a 5-0 advantage.
An ever-improving John Lethemon turned a corner for no-doubt his best performance between the pipes as a Spartan goaltender. Friday night he saved 29 of 29 Michigan shots for his second career shutout.
“He was outstanding,” said Cole. “He was in control and calm. His body was real soft and that is a really good thing.”
The ramifications of a win like MSU had Friday night stretch far beyond helping them reach their goals of this season. The increasing hype and success in Cole’s first year at the helm (eight wins already passes MSU’s seven from last year), has brought more hockey fans into Munn this season than they had in the final three to four years of the Tom Anastos era. For the first time in years, MSU’s student section was completely filled and at times the arena was deafening.
Michigan State has been waiting for a moment like this. A 5-0 win in a middle of a season where the Spartans still have single-digit wins can seem meaningless. However, Cole knows what a night that a night like this could be looked back on as a springboard for his program.
“Its another part of it,” said Cole. “I did not think we lost any momentum last weekend (against Notre Dame), but we did not get any points. It is validation for our players and for our fans that they see the program is moving in the right direction. We want them (the fans) coming back.”
The Spartans will be off until New Year’s Day where they will take part in the 53rd annual Great Lakes Invitational held at Little Caesers Arena. The Spartans will play Michigan Tech in the first round and will be joined by Bowling Green and Michigan.