By Stefan Kubus -
EAST LANSING – It took 50 shots, but the Penn State Nittany Lions consistently buzzed around the Michigan State net enough to light the lamp three times Saturday night.
Penn State (10-13-0) defeated the Spartans (7-16-3), 3-2, to earn the weekend split after MSU won Friday night’s game, 5-3. Freshman goaltender Matthew Skoff made 31 saves in the game for the Nittany Lions.
“I thought the team who was the better team tonight was the team that won the game,” MSU head coach Tom Anastos said. “I thought overall, in the full body of work, we had some spurts, but full body of work, they were the better team tonight.”
Defensemen RJ Boyd and Matt Grassi – his first of the year – scored for MSU, while freshman Mike Ferrantino (Plymouth) had a pair of assists for a three-point weekend. Freshman Jake Hildebrand made 47 saves in the loss.
“It has been like that, the margin for error has been nothing, pretty much,” Grassi said. “It hasn’t been there. Every little mistake is costing this team. We’re going to make mistakes, but we have to figure out how to overcome them as a team.”
Michigan State captain Greg Wolfe said his team came out strong in the first, but ultimately lost a hold on the game.
“I thought we came out in the first, I thought we had a good first period, guys were jumping, we got the early goal,” Wolfe said. “Then just with the change in momentum of the game, kind of losing everything, kind of threw us off, and then they were able to get some momentum. Obviously the goal that they scored early in the third hurt us. It was back-and-forth after that, and then they ended up getting the one with four minutes left that kind of put the knife in our back.”
In the first, on a loose puck that trickled back to the point, Boyd let a slap shot go on net. Skoff got a piece with his glove, but the puck hopped over and into the back of the net for a 1-0 Spartans lead.
Just minutes after Boyd’s goal, Grassi added his first goal of the season in similar fashion to Boyd’s goal. A quick feed back to Grassi from Forfar allowed the Spartans’ lone senior defenseman to step into a rocket from the right point that beat Skoff cleanly.
“It was nice, I’ve hit a couple crossbars of late, so it was nice that one finally went in,” Grassi said of his goal. “It’s unfortunate, it doesn’t feel as sweet when the team loses, but on a personal level, it was nice to get the monkey off the back, but it would have felt a lot better if we could have won the game.”
Quickly into the second stanza, Penn State freshman defenseman Mark Yanis – a Grosse Pointe Woods native and former teammate of Matt DeBlouw (Chesterfield) in Muskegon (USHL) – found a loose puck in the slot after a scramble in front of Hildebrand and managed to fire it past the MSU goaltender for a 2-1 game.
That goal seemed to pump some life into the Nittany Lions as they peppered Hildebrand with 15 shots in the second period alone to lead the Spartans in shots through two, 36-23.
And in the third period, Penn State continued to push, tying the game up early, as Casey Bailey slapped a loose puck home from the slot that found its way through Hildebrand.
Later in the period, junior Taylor Holstrom broke in down the left side and found twine with a quick, low backhand shot. That proved to be the game-winner, as MSU could not find a way past Skoff the rest of the way out.
“We’re going through growing pains,” Anastos said. “We’re certainly going through a period where we’re not playing with a whole lot of confidence.”
Notes: With seven blocks tonight, freshman defenseman John Draeger (2012 Minnesota third-round pick) now tied for first in the country in blocked shots…Both Skoff and Hildebrand trained with Pittsburgh-area goalie coach Shane Clifford, who was on hand to take in the game featuring both of his pupils between their respective pipes…Announced attendance was 6,132.