Spartans can’t solve Hjelle, fall 1-0 to Buckeyes Friday night

By Stefan Kubus -

EAST LANSING - In a game featuring a pair of second-period disallowed goals and two of the top goaltenders in the country right now, it was evident that Friday night’s contest between the Michigan State Spartans and Ohio State Buckeyes would take one shot to decide an outcome.

Sophomore Ryan Dzingel buried home a late rebound goal for the Buckeyes with only 2:13 to play in the game, while senior netminder Brady Hjelle – who holds a 1.26 goals-against average and .957 save percentage (both 2nd in NCAA) – turned away all 31 shots he faced for a 1-0 OSU victory.

“It was a style of game that we prepared for,” Spartans head coach Tom Anastos said. “It was very tough to find room out there. They play sound, in some ways suffocating, defense. I thought there were momentum changes throughout the game, and we could just never get that goal to get over the hump and get our crowd into it.”

While Hjelle was perfect tonight, MSU freshman netminder Jake Hildebrand was nearly the same in his own right, making 32 saves in the loss. He now sports the eighth-best GAA (1.72) and third-best save percentage (.946) in the entire NCAA.

Michigan State senior forward and team captain Greg Wolfe sang praise for his freshman goalie, whom in three losses has allowed two or fewer goals.

“He was unbelievable again,” Wolfe said. “I mean, he has given us a chance to win every night, and that’s all you can ask of a goalie. You’ve got to believe his goals-against average is pretty low so he’s only letting in one or two goals a game. That’s on us, the players, to give him that support and start scoring some goals for him.”

Both teams exchanged momentum swings in the first stanza, with the Spartans getting the better scoring chances on Ohio State netminder Brady Hjelle – currently leading the CCHA in goals-against average and save percentage. MSU outshot the Buckeyes 14-8 in the first frame.

Filling in for Lee Reimer (serving a DQ penalty), Plymouth native and freshman forward Mike Ferrantino provided energy for his squad, playing alongside seniors Kevin Walrod and captain Greg Wolfe.

The second period edge went to the Buckeyes, as they came out firing on all cylinders, but Hildebrand stood up to the task, turning away 13 shots in the second frame. However, it was here that the fans at Munn saw a rare occurrence: a disallowed goal for each team. Not only that, but reversed calls in both situations.

First, Ohio State’s Tanner Fritz walked in after making a nifty move around the Spartans’ defense and rang a shot off the inside of the far post and crossbar before bouncing out. The referee behind the net ruled it a goal, forcing the review that overturned the call on the ice.

“I didn’t think it was in and then I saw the ref pointing at it so I looked at the scoreboard and saw it hit the post and crossbar,” Hildebrand said of the play. “That was a big relief for me.”

Later in the period, after some fruitless cycling in the Buckeyes zone, freshman David Bondra decided to just take the puck to the net with a low shot. A lively battle for the rebound ensued in front of Hjelle, and it appeared the Spartans were able to bang the puck home, as the referee called it a goal.

That is, until the officials decided to review it. The call was overturned, due to goaltender interference from a Spartan who was cutting across the goal crease, and the teams were once again deadlocked.

MSU assistant captain Anthony Hayes, who was involved in the play, was frustrated with the call, but admits it was the correct one.

“I just think the goalie was interfered with, so it made it hard for him to play the puck,” Hayes said. “That’s the only explanation I have…There’s not many games where you see the call reversed on two goals, so it is what it is. It happens, and we have to be ready for that, so I don’t think it had that much bearing on the game.”

The Spartans’ captain echoed Hayes’ frustration.

“It’s tough getting a goal waived off,” Wolfe said. “It takes the wind out of your sails and defeats momentum. We were getting chances, I think we need to get more people in front of (Hjelle) because he is a good goalie. If he can see the puck, he’s going to make saves. I think we figured that out tonight.”

Heading into the third frame, it was evident that one shot would decide this game. Or maybe two in the event of a rebound goal.

Ohio State’s junior captain Alex Szczechura – younger brother of Paul who formerly skated with Western Michigan and enjoyed an NHL stint over the past four seasons – broke in down the left side of the Spartans’ zone with good speed and wired a shot on goal that Hildebrand stopped. But the rebound popped right out to Dzingel, who tapped it in for the 1-0 lead.

“It was a quick pass for the one-timer and I tried to shrug it off,” Hildebrand said of the goal. “I thought it got caught in me and it just died right there. I didn’t see it, and the guy just dove on the rebound and put it in.”

A last-ditch effort by the Green and White, that included pulling Hildebrand and nearly executing a perfect play off the last face-off, just wasn’t enough.

Notes: Friday night’s game marked only the third time in history that the Spartans were shut out in back-to-back games, with the last time coming in 2010 against Ferris State and then Michigan in the Big Chill…Total shots for the game were 33-31 in favor of OSU…With a crowd of 6,417, Munn Ice Arena was just shy of being sold out…In his first game back from injury, freshman forward Ryan Keller left Friday night’s game early…MSU has killed off 16 straight penalties over a four-game span.