Michigan State hockey salvages huge weekend split with rival Michigan

Michigan State's Reed Lebster takes a shot at Michigan's goalie during the third period on Friday,
Michigan State's Reed Lebster takes a shot at Michigan's goalie during the third period on Friday, / Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA

Last weekend didn't get off to the kind of start Michigan State hockey has been accustomed to this season.

The Spartans (16-5-3, 10-2-2 B1G) played a home-and-home series with hated rival Michigan (11-8-3, 4-6-2 B1G) and kicked things off at home at Munn Ice Arena. It was an uncharacteristic performance, to say the least, and one that was frustrating to watch.

After scoring a season-high seven goals in last weekend's second game against Penn State, Michigan State gave up seven goals in game one against the Wolverines, also a season-high for goals it's allowed this year. They would fall 7-1 and get outshot 34-22 in the contest. Michigan also took advantage on special teams and scored four power play goals, finding themselves up 6-0 at one point.

To add insult to injury, the frustrations boiled over in the third period.

Frankly, you'll probably never see a game with as many recorded penalty minutes as this one. Between the both of them, there were 168 penalty minutes registered in game one as well as 11 game misconduct penalties. And before you think about getting your eyes checked, yes you read all of that right. Unfortunately, it about summed up the Spartans' frustrations they faced all night long.

The lone Spartan goal scorer would be off the stick of Nicolas Muller midway through the third when the game was all but decided. Dylan Duke led the Wolverines with a pair of goals, and Rutger McGroarty led all players with four points, getting the scoring started with a first period goal and also tallying three assists.

Game two took place at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, and it started about as well as game one. By the middle of the second period, Michigan State would be down 4-1 and was at risk of being blown out for a second straight game. But 40 seconds after giving up a powerplay goal, sophomore Isaac Howard would net his sixth goal of the year and open the floodgates for the Spartan offense.

Michigan State would go on to score the next six goals to bring their lead to 7-4. Four of these would be scored in an eight-minute span to close out the second period. Michigan would net a last-minute goal but nothing more, and the Spartans would win 7-5.

Muller was there to lead the way offensively with a pair of second period goals and two assists. Gavin O'Connell, Joey Larson and Artyom Levshunov would each add a goal and an assist. Senior Jeremy Davidson also scored and notched two assists to help the Spartans to victory. Michigan State managed to do this even while being outshot 48-30, with Trey Augustine stopping 43 shots in net after the shellacking he faced Friday.

Even though it was a very up and down weekend, it says a lot about this young team that they were able to battle back and rally for a series split, especially doing so on the road in a hostile environment against your biggest rival. Winning game two despite the large deficit and despite the beatdown they suffered in game one is the type of thing a good team does. More importantly, it's what championship teams do. Find a way to win even in the face of an increasing amount of adversity.

And with the schedule not getting any easier the rest of the way, every game and every win is crucial to making the NCAA Tournament, something Michigan State hasn't gotten to be a part of in over a decade.

The Spartans will wrap up January with a home series against Minnesota this upcoming Friday and Saturday, the defending Big Ten champs and national runner-up from a year ago.