The Michigan State Spartans were facing the possibility of slipping from contention in the regular season Big Ten race entering the series. With two wins and the six points that comes with it, the Spartans are now right in the thick of things. The Big Ten race has come down to four teams- Michigan and Minnesota are tied in first with 24 points and MSU and PSU are tied for second with 22.
At the first drop of the puck it was evident that Guy Gadowsky's squad was ready to play this game. After struggling to gain quality scoring chances the night before, the team fired shots on goal and chased to the front of the net for the rebounds. Unlike the previous game, Jake Hildebrand allowed a few rebounds on the early shots but Penn State was unable to capitalize.
The Lions were given two great chances to score in the earlygoing. Less than one minute into the game MSU was called for a tripping penalty and a few minutes later PSU went on another power play. The two opportunities went without a goal, and the visiting team was only able to get one shot on net in the four minutes of having a man advantage.
One reason for the lack of shots on goal early on was the gutsy determination of the Spartan's team defense. Sophomore forward Joe Cox blocked four shots during the earlygoing. Unlike in basketball when a player blocks a shot using his hand to tap away a scoring effort, in hockey a player gives up the body. Cox put his body in front of a Casey Bailey blast on the second power play and after being hit in the mid-section he spun around on the ice, face down, for a few moments in agony. Unable to clear the zone, just a few seconds later Cox once again was caught between a Bailey blast from the left point. Like a true Spartan warrior, Cox did not hesitate to block the screaming puck with his left shin. After the shift Cox had a hard time making his way to the bench, and was unable to return to the ice until the second period.
Halfway through the period MSU broke the ice in the scoring column. Mackenzie MacEachern scored a savvy goal on a rebound off the pads of Matt Skoff. While the Lions had momentum for the game to this point it was the home team that was rewarded with the lead.
The remainder of the period was hampered by two careless stick-related penalties by Tommy Olczyk and Zach Saar. The Lions were forced to back off on the offensive side and as a result there were not many scoring chances on either side until the final whistle.
As the period began it was clear that the Lions were not discouraged with the lack of production to go along with the dominance it had in the first period. The team came out with as much fire and tenacity as it had started with. Five minutes in, MSU was called for a high-sticking penalty. Junior defensemen Connor Varley made it count, scoring on a blast from the left point on a smooth pass from Eric Scheid. Hildebrand was momentarily screened by Scheid and was late reacting to the shot that got past his right skate.
The next ten minutes of the period was dominated by PSU penalties. Casey Bailey was called for a hooking penalty that the leader felt was a soft call. Before going to the sin bin, the scorer gave the ref an earful. PSU was able to kill the penalty. Bailey left the penalty box when the two minutes expired, went directly to the front of the net, and was called for another soft two minute hooking penalty. At this point Bailey became very frustrated, smacking the boards with his gloves several times before re-entering the penalty box. The entire team became upset with the calls and it showed in how it played the next few minutes.
Shortly after Bailey's second penalty, Connor Varley was called for high-sticking and joined Bailey in the box. Down two skaters, the Lions were unable to keep MSU from scoring. Mackenzie MacEachern scored for the second time on a nifty shot from the point. Penn State was able to kill the Varley penalty without allowing another goal, but the exchange set the tone for the rest of the game.
The Spartans went into the defensive shell that it does when the team has a lead. For the remainder of the period there were very few scoring opportunities. The period ended with the home team leading 2-1.
The final period started slowly with MSU once again employing the tactic of protecting the lead at all costs. Eight minutes in the Lion's Curtis Loik took a penalty for high-sticking. Penn State was unable to kill the penalty. Mackenzie MacEachern scored his third straight goal for the Spartans on the power play, giving the sophomore forward a natural hat-trick.
The following seven minutes of the period were marred by penalties on each team. With five minutes left in the game, down a pair of goals and skating four on four due to matching penalties, Gadowsky pulled the goalie. With the extra skater Casey Bailey was able to net a goal for the twentieth time this year on a pass from Nate Jensen.
The goal from Bailey would be the final bright spot for the visiting Lions, and the game would end with a 3-2 loss and a series sweep.
1-Mackenzie MacEachern. With the first hat-trick in three years for the Spartan he was the player of the game.
2-Jake Hildebrand. The stand-out goalie once again played an amazing game.
3-Joe Cox. The forward played one of the toughest games seen this year, with multiple blocked shots.
- The Nittany Lions will take on Minnesota at home during Thon weekend. The series will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU and the BTN. The Gophers are coming off a crucial series sweep of Michigan, shutting out the high-octane Wolverines Saturday night 2-0.
- Michigan will take on Ohio State next weekend in a Friday and Sunday series. While the teams are not evenly matched on the ice this year, the rivalry will make the games much closer.