EAST LANSING – Despite a valiant effort from freshman goaltender Jake Hildebrand, the Michigan State Spartans fell 1-0 to the Bowling Green Falcons at Munn Ice Arena on Friday night.
The Spartans racked up 29 shots, but Bowling Green’s senior goaltender Andrew Hammond shut the door on all of them en route to a shutout and victory for his club.
“They played well around their goaltender,” Spartans head coach Tom Anastos said. “This game is a game of inches and for our team, especially offensively, that’s probably how it’s going to be.”
Hildebrand, appearing in just his third collegiate game, stopped 24 shots for the Spartans in a rare 5 p.m. game in East Lansing.
In the first, Bowling Green set the tone early with a steady, stable forecheck. With 3:44 left in the first frame, sophomore defenseman Connor Kucera one-timed a pass from the point that found its way through traffic and past Hildebrand.
“The guy passed it for a one-timer and I was trying to look around the screen, but I couldn’t get to it,” Hildebrand said. “I didn’t see it.”
While the Spartans responded well after the Kucera tally, controlling the play for the remainder of the period, MSU headed to the dressing room after 20 minutes down a goal. The Falcons outshot the Spartans 9-5 in the first.
Anastos said after the game that he decided to make some strategic adjustments for the second period to gain back momentum.
“We did change our strategy a little bit from the first period to the second period, more based on how they were playing,” Anastos said. “That created a different kind of game, where it wasn’t just going to be playing in the offensive zone and grinding along the boards. There was going to be a little more flow up and down the ice.”
Michigan State continued to push back in a scoreless second period, with a pair of fruitless power play opportunities, though there was no shortage of solid puck movement. Penalty trouble in the second stanza also prevented the Spartans from completely taking over the game, something Anastos said was a thorn in his club’s side.
“I didn’t like a couple of the penalties that we ended up taking, which took us out of rhythm a bit. The too-many men on the ice was a miscommunication… It just takes you out of your rhythm when you’ve gotta go kill penalties.”
Meanwhile, at the other end, Hildebrand stood his ground between the pipes, turning away several terrific scoring opportunities, including what was arguably the save of the game.
After a partially-blocked Bowling Green shot from the corner, the puck squirted to an uncovered Ben Murphy in the slot. All alone, Murphy fired a low, point-blank shot that Hildebrand beautifully kicked away with the left pad.
“I think our D blocked the first shot…I saw the puck going over there, so I just tried to get a leg on it,” Hildebrand said of the save. “I don’t think he got all of it, I think he whiffed on it a little bit, so you need luck sometimes, too.”
Anastos expressed nothing but pleasure with his freshman netminder’s game.
“I thought he had a real good game. I don’t think he had a chance unless the puck hit him on that goal because I don’t think he could see it. I was real happy with how he played.”
Though the Spartans outshot Bowling Green in the second period, 10-9, the score still displayed a one-goal deficit.
In the third, it was more of the same relentless attack from the Spartans, but unfortunately, it was more of the same from Bowling Green’s senior goaltender Andrew Hammond, who turned away the Spartans’ sustained pressure all night long.
“We were getting first shots, but the second and third… that’s the only way we’re going to score on him, because [Hammond] is a good goalie,” said sophomore forward and MSU leading scorer Tanner Sorenson. “He’s going to be the one guy we’ve got to beat tomorrow.”
MSU will travel to Bowling Green for the second game of the weekend series with the Falcons. Puck drop is set for 7:05 on Saturday night. Anastos said after the game that junior Will Yanakeff would get the start in goal for Saturday night’s game.
“The guys played really well tonight,” Hildebrand said. “They didn’t give them too many chances, but the 1-0 game always stings really hard. I think it’ll leave a bad taste in our mouth and we’ll come back stronger tomorrow.”
Notes: Final shots: 29-25 in favor of MSU…MSU owns a 71-29-8 all-time record in the series against Bowling Green, including a 40-9-3 record in East Lansing; at Bowling Green, the Spartans hold a slim 24-18-5 record…Bowling Green’s squad featured four Michigan natives: Cam Wojtala (Trenton, former Mr. Hockey), Dajon Mingo (Canton), Ted Pletsch (Canton), and Bobby Shea (Harrison Township)…Three stars of the night: Connor Kucera – BG – (3rd; game-winner), Jake Hildebrand – MSU – (2nd; 24 saves), Andrew Hammond – BG – (1st; 29 saves, shutout)… MSU head coach Tom Anastos announced freshman forward Rhett Holland – injured during the LSSU series – will be out for the rest of the year, will undergo surgery and will redshirt… Freshman Ryan Keller is still a few weeks away with injury, as also announced by Anastos.