Rehash&Analysis: Late rally lifts Michigan State hockey again in 5-1 victory at Michigan

On3 imageby:Jim Comparoni02/10/24


Michigan State led Michigan 3-1 with about 10 minutes to go when the Wolverine push began. 

Michigan, trailing the Spartans in the national rankings, the Big Ten standings, and in this game at sold-out Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, peppered the Spartan crease with seven shots within a :90 second stretch, four of which were saved by Spartan goaltender Trey Augustine, two were blocked and one sailed wide. 

The barrage was interrupted by the 10-minute-mark media time out. Michigan State head coach Adam Nightingale didn’t strain his voice to rally the Spartans as they gathered around him during the break. He didn’t try to offer any x’s and o’s brilliance, unless you count consistent messaging as brilliance.

“I don’t think we’re splitting atoms, coaching hockey,” Nightingale said after the Spartans’ 5-1 victory. “We’re in February, the guys know what we want. We just talked: Keep playing the right way, play behind them and play disciplined. Our guys know what’s expected of them and now they have to go out and do it.”

After the brief Wolverine spurt, Michigan State regained control of the game, culminating with empty-net goals by Red Savage at 17:18 and Jeremy Davidson at 17:43 to seal the victory.

“We work all week, all year to build our tanks and use that as an advantage against our opponents,” said sophomore left winger Isaac Howard. “We’re the best-conditioned team and it was just to go out there and go prove that, and we did that.”


The Spartans, ranked No. 9 in the poll, improved to 19-7-3 overall and 13-4-2 in the Big Ten. Michigan State remains five points ahead of second-place Wisconsin in the Big Ten standings, after the Badgers beat Notre Dame on Friday night.

Michigan State has five conference games remaining in the regular season, with each win worth three points. Wisconsin has seven games remaining, including two against the Spartans during the final weekend of the regular season (March 1-2), a series that almost surely will decide the conference championship. Michigan State has never won the Big Ten hockey championship, in the 11-year history of Big Ten hockey. 

No. 11 Michigan fell to 14-10-3 overall and 7-8-2 in the conference. 

With the victory on Friday, Michigan State moved up to No. 6 in the Pairwise Rankings, which are used to determine NCAA Tournament bids and seeding. 

Senior left wing Reed Lebster pushes the puck up the ice during Michigan State’s victory over Michigan on Friday. (Photo by USA Today Network).


Beating Michigan has been an occasional red-letter achievement for Michigan State in this sport for the past three decades, but claiming victory for the second time in three weeks is the latest signal that something strong is brewing in East Lansing. With this win, Michigan State is 2-1 against Michigan on the season, with one remaining regular season game against the Wolverines on Saturday at 8:30 p.m., at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. 

The Spartans earned back-to-back wins at Yost for the first time since 2017.

With 19 victories, Michigan State has its most wins in a season since the 2011-12 campaign. 

“We’re excited about it,” Nightingale said. “We try not to get ahead of ourselves. We still have a lot of work to do. 

“I think what I’m most excited (about) is our alumni. It’s a proud alumni group and I want to make sure they walk in the rink and they are proud to be a Spartan. I think they always are. I think that’s really important. And the support we get from our alums, we’re super thankful for. 

“They’re at our rink all the time. They are coming to games. There were some here tonight, there are some who have tickets to go to LCA (on Saturday), but I want them to go to a youth rink and walk around with that Spartan logo and it mean something. So I think that’s what we’re excited about. Again, we still have a long way to go and we’re heading in the right direction and it’s exciting but we just have to focus on one game at a time.”

Michigan State’s Reed Lebster and Michigan’s Ethan Edwards battle in front of the net during Michigan State’s 5-1 victory over Michigan, Friday at Yost Ice Arena. (Photo by USA Today Network).


Tanner Kelly, Daniel Russell, Maxim Štrbák, Red Savage and Jeremy Davidson scored for Michigan State

Isaac Howard and Karsen Dorwart each had two assists for the Spartans. 

“I think there’s a ton of belief in the room,” said Russell, a sophomore right wing from Traverse City. “We know we have the talent. We have the guys to really make a good run for it this year.”

Augustine stopped 29 shots, and came up big on several occasions. He was the clearly the best goalie on the ice. 

“Thats just a normal night for him,” Howard said. “He’s always kicking it in there and keeping us in games and making big saves. It’s great to have a great goalie.”

Michigan State committed only one minor penalty on the night. The Spartans killed off that penalty without allowing a shot. Michigan State has killed off nine straight penalties and 17 of the last 18. 

“If you want to win late in the season, you have to be disciplined and I think we’re getting better at that and tonight was a good example of that,” Howard said. 

After the first empty-netter, Michigan fans began to file out while Spartan fans roared loudly, including some Munnsters – members of the Michigan State student section – who migrated to Ann Arbor for the evening. 

“You look up and you see the Munnsters still in the stands and the Children of Yost are kind of clearing out and they’re a little embarrassed, I guess,” Howard said. “So it’s good to see our fans show up and we love the support.”


Michigan State broke the 1-1 tie when Daniel Russell scored 4:46 into the third period on a crafty Karsen Dorwart feed from behind the net. That was Russell’s ninth goal of the year, which ranks fifth on the team.

Less than five minutes later, freshman defenseman Maxim Štrbák made it 3-1 when he trickled a backhander past Michigan goalie Jake Barczewski. Howard assisted on the goal by feathering a saucer pass to Štrbák as the freshman defenseman joined the rush. It was the second goal of the year for Štrbák (6-2, 205, Košice, Slovakia).

Maxim Štrbák (right) celebrates his third-period goal, which lifted Michigan State to a 3-1 lead during Friday’s victory over Michigan. (Photo by USA Today Network).


Michigan took a 1-0 lead at 9:20 of the second period. But the Spartans answered immediately, with Kelly scoring on a clever backhand :25 seconds later. 

Michigan had stretches through the remainder of the game when it had a territorial edge, but the Wolverines never led again – and the Spartans grew stronger as the game progressed, for the second straight meeting between the two rivals. 

“I loved our response,” Nightingale said. “We get scored on, and for Tanner to come out and make the play that he did.”

Kelly (5-10, 175, Sr., San Diego) is a fourth-line winger who was scratched from the lineup for two games (meaning he was benched) after taking some unnecessary penalties in the loss to Michigan on Jan. 19.

He returned to the lineup for last Saturday’s game against Notre Dame, and provided a pivotal moment in this game. 

“The last time we played them at home in the first game of the series, he lost his cool and took some penalties,” Nightingale said. “A good learning lesson for Tanner. You have to use that emotion in the right way. He sat a little bit and got back in and I was proud of him tonight because right after we get scored on he is in that spot again where he can go over the line, but he used his emotion the right way.”

Michigan State was trounced by Michigan 7-1 in the first meeting of the season between the two teams on Jan. 19. Michigan State rebounded from a 4-1 deficit to score a thrilling 7-5 victory over Michigan the next night in Ann Arbor, and then had to wait three weeks for Friday’s rematch. 

Nightingale said he feels his players have done a better job of handling the emotion of the series.

“A little bit of it is when it’s the first game of the series and there’s the build-up, and you’re getting asked about it all week,” Nightingale said. “I thought our guys did a better job of it. For us what’s really important obviously is respecting who you play but not letting disliking them boil over.

“I thought it was really tight in the first period (tonight). In the third, I thought that we did a lot of really good things and kind of played to our identity. 

“They had some good looks and Trey played well. That’s part of it. Their goalie played well as well, so it will make for a great game tomorrow.”

Russell is looking forward to it. 

“Oh, it’s super special,” he said. “Tonight (Friday at Yost) is always a big game, playing here. But the big stage at Little Caesars Arena is going to be awesome. It’s amazing. It’s a dream come true. It’s awesome to be there.”

Gavin O’Connell (29) and David Gucciardi celebrate Red Savage’s (21) goal late in Michigan State’s victory over Michigan on Friday at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor. | Photo by USA Today Network.

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