Irish sweep Spartans in pivotal Big Ten series
Nate Moller | Monday, February 21, 2022
The No. 11 Irish (23-9-0, 15-7-0-5-1-0 B1G) got a much-needed series sweep this weekend on the road in East Lansing, beating the Michigan State Spartans (11-20-1, 5-17-0-1-0-0 B1G) by scores of 2-1 and 4-2.
Irish find way to win on Friday
The Irish were outshot 37-22 on Friday night, but they managed to get the victory. Sophomore forward Landon Slaggert’s goal in the third period was the difference.
The first period got off to a relatively slow start for both teams with neither team getting much of anything going over the first fifteen minutes. The best chance for the Irish came off the stick of senior defenseman Spencer Stastney. His wrister rang off the post with 13 minutes remaining in the first period.
The Spartans gained some momentum on their first power play of the game, forcing Irish graduate student goaltender Matthew Galajda to make a couple of point-blank saves. The Spartans then successfully got one past Galajda with just 11 seconds remaining on the power play to take an early 1-0 lead.
Head coach Jeff Jackson applauded the Spartans for their stingy defense.
“They don’t give you a whole lot. They try to keep you outside a lot in the perimeter,” Jackson said. “You just have to find ways to generate offense.”
The Irish started to get things going offensively in the second period. After some chances, freshman forward Hunter Strand got the Irish on the board just over five minutes into the period. Strand scored off of a wrist shot from the faceoff dot to tie the score at a goal apiece.
The Irish nearly grabbed the lead at the end of the period when freshman forward Justin Janicke fired a shot from the middle. However, Michigan State goalie Pierce Charleson got a shoulder to it and kept the game tied after the second period.
Landon Slaggert then gave the Irish the lead early in the third period, tipping in a blocked shot from Strand. The Spartans would get a power-play moments after the Irish goal, but the Irish defense held strong to keep the game at 2-1.
Junior forward Trevor Janicke seemingly put the Irish up by two goals with 3:57 left in the game. But the insurance goal was ruled a high stick. After the play, there was a scuffle in front of the net. Irish senior forward Graham Slaggert and Michigan State’s Cole Krygier were disqualified from the game.
The Irish then limited the Spartans’ attempts from there on out to earn a Friday night victory in East Lansing.
Irish earn series sweep on Saturday
The Irish dominated Saturday night, taking an early 2-0 first period lead and ultimately winning by a score of 4-2 to earn a series sweep at the Munn Ice Arena.
It was Justin Janicke who got the scoring started for the Irish, scoring a tap-in goal from in front of the net 6:30 into the period. Janicke was assisted on the play by graduate student forward Jack Adams and Stastney.
The Irish added another goal at the end of the first period off of the stick of Adams. Adams was assisted by Justin Janicke. The freshman sent the puck near the front of the net, allowing Adams to slip it by Spartans’ goaltender Drew DeRidder. The Irish took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
The Irish continued to put pressure on the Spartans in the second period, and they took a commanding 3-0 lead during 4-on-4 play at the beginning of the period. This time it was graduate student Chase Blackmun who scored, firing a wrist shot past DeRidder for his second goal of the season.
The Spartans narrowed the Irish lead to 3-1 at the 12:23 mark of the second period when Jeremy Davidson scored from just outside the crease.
The Irish took back a three-goal lead just over a minute later in the second with Spencer Stastney sending a shot from the point that got by DeRidder. That goal marked Stastney’s career-high sixth goal of the season.
The Spartans had some looks in the third, forcing Galajda to make eleven saves, but they only scored once at the end of the game, and the Irish won comfortably by a score of 4-2.
Irish prepare for playoffs
Stastney thought the Irish showed that they are ready for playoff hockey with their victory on Saturday night.
“We played playoff hockey this weekend,” Stastney said. “It was a real gritty weekend, low scoring games so we were getting pucks deep, not making mistakes and getting ready for playoffs. They [Hunter Strand, Jack Adams and Justin Janicke] are all great character guys and great players. When they are scoring it is exciting and great for our team moving forward.”
Although the Irish currently remain fourth in the Big Ten standings, they move within one point of the Buckeyes in the third with this weekend’s sweep. The Buckeyes do not play next week, so if the Irish can get more than one point in their final regular-season series against Michigan, they will earn the three seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
Despite the importance of the standings, Jackson is focusing on getting his team to play their best hockey of the year ahead of the playoffs.
“For me, it’s more about playing well at this time of the year and get our team to peak going into the playoffs,” Jackson said. “The focus has been let’s get our game in order before going into the playoffs.”
The Irish will return to Compton Family Ice Arena next weekend against Michigan, who is currently first in the Big Ten.