Ice Hockey: MSU takes opener

The No. 9 University of Michigan ice hockey team made the short trip to East Lansing, Mich., tonight for the season opener against the rivals Spartans. Despite the Wolverines jumping out to a 3-1 lead through the first 20 minutes of play, No. 5 Michigan State fought back into the lead with five straight goals on the way to a 7-4 MSU victory.

With star defenseman Jack Johnson relegated to being a fan in the weekend opener with the No. 5 Michigan State Spartans, the maize and blue knew that it would take a near perfect effort to snatch two points in the league standings from the rival Spartans in East Lansing. With that in mind, the Wolverines jumped out to an early 3-1 lead after 20 minutes of play, but the home Spartans rallied with five consecutive goals over the final two periods on the way to a 7-4 Michigan State victory.

"Obviously, the first intermission was a chance for Michigan State to regroup and maybe a chance for our team to think that they were having a great game. They were a different team, and we were a different team. We gave them too much in the second period. They got the momentum and they're at home, and we didn't get it back. It's very disappointing," said Michigan coach Red Berenson after the game.

In the opening minutes of the contest, it was the Wolverines Kevin Porter that drew first blood in the intrastate rivalry. Porter, slicing through the neutral zone from his left wing position, took a pass from David Rohlfs behind the Michigan State defense and carried the puck into the Michigan State zone where he beat Spartans goalie Jeff Lerg at the 4:04 mark to make it 1-0.

Just over two minutes later, Brandon Naurato, the left winger on the Wolverines fourth line, made it 2-0 by jamming a cross-ice pass from Morgan Ward into the Spartans net for his first of two goals on the night.

Michigan State trimmed the Wolverines lead with a power-play goal of 13:57, but the Wolverines pushed the lead back to two goals with Naurato's second marker of the game with just over three minutes remaining in the first period, this one coming on the power play.

It was all Michigan State in the second period. At the 5:52 mark, the Spartans trimmed the Wolverines lead to one goal again with a second power-play goal of the game, this one beating Michigan goalie Billy Sauer on a redirection from just in front of the U-M netminder.

Continuing to apply pressure on the Wolverines, the Spartans tied the score 3-3 just over halfway through the period. Michigan State's Matt Schepke beat Billy Sauer with a hard slap shot from inside the right circle to complete the Wolverines collapse.

"The last three weekends, we've come out in the first period and played well, gone into the locker room, and then come out in the second period flat-footed," said Michigan senior center T.J. Hensick after the weekend opener on Friday night. "I don't know if it's a matter of getting too high when things are going well for us and thinking the games are going to come to us. But we've got to work hard from the first period to the third period. We just seem to come out flat-footed, and that has to be answered."

Michigan State took the lead for the first time just three minutes later. Jim McKenzie and MSU capitalized on an ill-timed pinch from Michigan defenseman Jason Dest and beat Sauer for the third time of the period on an odd-man rush that caught the Wolverines short-handed.

The Spartans scored their final goal of the period on a rebound goal from Justin Abdelkader at the 16:42 mark.

Michigan State made it five straight goals with the opening goal of the final frame, again beating Billy Sauer from in the right circle.

Michigan's David Rohlfs would bring the Wolverines within two with a rebound goal in the final five minutes of play, but the Spartans put in an empty net goal in the final moments of the game to secure the 7-4 win.

With the loss, the Wolverines drop to 0-4-5 against the Spartans in their last nine contests. The final game of the weekend series is set for 7:35 tomorrow night at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor.

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