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Michigan head coach Mel Pearson walked into the postgame interview room Saturday night, and one could see the frustration on his face and hear it in his voice.
Pearson’s Wolverines had just lost a game to Big Ten and in-state rival Michigan State after two overtimes and a shootout that gave the Spartans a weekend sweep of the Wolverines. In the standings, the game was a tie, but the look on Pearson’s face said that it felt like a loss.
“It’s brutal,” Pearson started. “You know, if you walk into our locker room right now, you’d think that something drastic had happened. It’s tough. It’s a big rivalry. They take it seriously. They take it to heart. We felt we deserved better, that’s the frustrating thing.
“We had two pretty good games and you get one point out of it. That’s sports. Some nights it’s not going to go your way. The shots were 40-19 in Michigan’s favor. They may have had a handful of scoring opportunities tonight. We had a number of them. It’s a tough night for all of us.”
Michigan State came from behind both nights to gain the two positive results, 4-3 on Friday night in East Lansing and a 1-1 tie in Ann Arbor on Saturday with a shootout win over the Wolverines to gain an extra point in the Big Ten conference standings.
In Friday’s series opener, Michigan held the lead twice on goals by sophomore forwards Josh Norris and Jack Becker, but a pair of third-period Spartan goals iced the come-from-behind victory for Michigan State, despite a late game-tying goal by junior forward Nick Pastujov.
Michigan again jumped out to an early first-period lead on Saturday on Nick Boka’s one-timer on the power play off a cross-ice pass from sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes.
Michigan State tied the game, 1-1, on a power-play goal of their own from junior forward Taro Hirose early in the second period and no further goals were scored through the final period and both overtimes.
Freshman Spartan goaltender Drew DeRidder, a graduate of the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, made his first big career splash for Michigan State, providing excellent efforts both games. Entering the weekend, DeRidder had played in five of the Spartan’s 12 contests, posting a stat line of 3.45 goals-against and an .875 save percentage. DeRidder faced 86 Michigan shots over the two-game series and performed so well that he exited the weekend with a much-improved 2.96 goals-against and a .906 save percentage.
“I thought we played hard tonight,” Pearson said after Saturday’s game. “I thought we did a good job of limiting them. We outshot them 40-19. We outshot them 46-29 last night.
“In our situation now, we’re not scoring goals and we can’t get any separation from the teams we’re playing. I thought we had opportunities tonight to get up on them and create a couple goal spread, but we couldn’t. They played a perfect little game, got great goaltending, scored on their chance and just had guys back [to defend]. That’s the way they play. They have people back and you’re not going to get many odd-man rushes. You got to grind it out against them. You have to play an ugly game. Unfortunately, it’s an ugly game and we’ve got to learn how to play in those games.”
First Star — Sophomore forward Jack Becker
Becker contributed a goal and an assist in Friday’s series opener and poured 11 shots on the Spartan net over the two games.
Second Star — Sophomore forward Josh Norris
Norris opened the scoring for Michigan on Friday and had a team-leading 12 shots on goal in the series.
Third Star — Freshman goaltender Strauss Mann
“Strauss Mann did an excellent job tonight,” Pearson said on Saturday. “I thought he looked good. Gave us a chance to win. He was really solid in the shootout and that’s where we have to take advantage. Those are big points.”
“We are in a very similar situation to last year. Now, can we come out of that funk? This weekend coming up [two games at home against Minnesota] will be a good opportunity to right the ship and go home [at the holiday break] for a few days in a good mood.”
— U-M head coach Mel Pearson
Minnesota makes the trip to Ann Arbor for two games next weekend giving Michigan another home opportunity to improve. The Golden Gophers have been fighting an early season funk of their own, sporting an uncharacteristic 4-6-3 overall record.
“Our team is playing in big games,” Pearson said, looking ahead to the Minnesota series. “Look at the Big Ten. Last night, you had two ties other than our game. Ohio State won in overtime tonight [against Minnesota]. The Big Ten is going to be close every night and you have to make sure when you have opportunities to score [you do it]. … That was our downfall tonight.
“We have to score goals when we have the opportunities. What you have to do is you have to stay at it. You have to do some drills where you’re getting to the net and you’re battling and trying to find loose pucks.”