Electric, pure energy and mayhem. Filing one by one into the famed Joe Louis Arena, fans from across the great state of Michigan flocked to see one last Duel in the D. Going head to head for the 25th time this season, the loyal fan following is never too far behind their golden boys. From my perch above the rink, I watched as 17,720 fans piled into the stands and anxiously waited for the puck drop. The “Go green, go white” and “go blue” chants collided and filled the cold arena air as more bodies pushed through to the weathered red seats. Amidist the chaos and noise, there was a hint of the surreal. The history of these two teams can’t help but be noticed, but contrasting the rivalry was the solemn reminder that these hallowed halls would soon be no more. The legends and leaders, blood, sweat and tears that showered the very ice the college kids would soon play on, would become just a memory. For one more night, that memory could be these boys’ reality.
As the teams took the ice, the crowd erupted. The energy was palpable and contagious. Skating to the faceoff, the familiar faces met each others’ gaze. Starting for Michigan was Warren (LW), Slaker (Center), Lockwood (RW), De Jong (D), Cecconi (D) and Lavigne between the pipes. Meeting in the middle, Michigan State skaters Hirose (LW), Appleton (Center), Cox (RW), Gatt (D), Holland (D) and goaltender Ed Minney took their positions. Taking control early on, State’s Hirose (17) took a feed from the corner boards and capitalized on the ill-fated rebound from Michigan goaltender Lavigne. Following a closely called roughing and hooking call against Michigan, State responded to the 5 on 3 with another bell-ringing goal from Saliba (10). Unable to clear the puck and inhibit State’s power play special team’s setup, Michigan seemed to be faltering early on. A turnover in the neutral zone however, would change the pace and give Michigan the advantage they needed to boost the momentum in what remained of the first period.
Michigan’s Jake Slaker (13) was in the right place at the right time. Late in the first period, catching a rebound from State net-minder Minney, Slaker threw a shot towards the net making it a 2-1 game at 14:54 to play. Michigan’s momentum surged as they swarmed State’s net firing one shot after the other. With just seconds to play in the first period, Shuart (25) popped a shot through the five-hole of Minney to tie the game. A charge raged through the crowd as the horn blew and the Michigan band played. State seemed to dominate in the early moments of game, controlling the puck, taking advantage of poor neutral zone turnovers, however, Michigan’s resilience was starting to show. With forty minutes yet to play in regulation, it was anyone’s game.
Michigan started the second period on the attack and Michigan State started a new goalie. John Lethemon, with only 6 games played so far in the regular season, replaced Minney. Michigan dominated the initial moments of the second period with tighter and more precise puck control. At 6:35, they would get a chance to make use of their new-found momentum. State’s Khodorenko (55), called for hooking, would give Michigan the advantage. State however, proved to be more than capable of matching the momentum Michigan exuded. Impressively killing the penalty, State answered Michigan’s attack with one of their own. Catching an unfortunate deflection off his own skate, Lavigne succumbed to Knudson’s shot at 9:14. Michigan responded at 16:05 with a power play one-timer from the top of the left circle from De Jong (21), bringing the second period to a close tied at three.
The trend continued which seemed to seal the fate of Michigan State. With a perfectly placed wrist shot from center, De Jong (21) again rifled the puck to the back of the net at 2:40 and sent a shock waive through the packed-out Joe Louis Arena. State seemed unraveled and reflected much of what Michigan looked like in the first period. With passes getting sloppy, the odds seemed ever in Michigan’s favor. Michigan’s luck seemed to change halfway through the second period when Michigan goaltender Lavigne was interfered with behind the net in the trapezoid but no call made. In retaliation, Lavigne drew a penalty with an interference call of his own to State’s Hirose (17). Hirose dove to the ice which landed him in the box for embellishment alongside Calderone (17) serving on behalf of his net-minder. Both teams effectively killing the coincidental two minute minor penalties, resumed full strength play. The Spartan’s saving grace came at 15:02 when Saliba (10) fired a shot off a feed from Haag past Lavigne tying the game at four. The iconic Joe Louis Arena was alive with penetrating “Go green, go white” and “go blue” chants. Once more, the hope was restored for Michigan State as they forced the game into sudden death overtime.
Overtime began with a four-on-four style of play as a result of post-period roughing and slashing calls against State’s Holland (11) and Michigan’s Slaker (13). Michigan controlled the puck from the face-off but couldn’t get past Lethemon. With no goals scored, both teams were restored to even strength with 2:27 remaining in sudden death overtime. Michigan dominated shots on goal and made every effort to clinch the game winner to no avail. With regulation behind them and sudden death drawn to a close, Michigan tallied 31 shots on goal to State’s 19. The game would now be decided in a shootout; the equivalent of a firing squad for any goaltender. The game now rested on the shoulders of the men behind the masks.
Michigan started off the charge with Lockwood (10) who was unable to net the puck. MSU’s Joe Cox (21) responded by burying a shot behind Levigne and putting his team up on the board. Slaker (13) was next in line and casually flipped the puck past Lethemon. Failing to score three consecutive attempts by State and two misses from Michigan, the tension grew and the crowd grew restless. The pressure mounted as Michigan’s Piazza (6) confidently skated up to the puck and carried across the blue line. Half of the crowd held their breath while the other half screamed or jeered. As the puck sailed across the crease and past the protective stance of Lethemon, the crowd erupted with the cheers of the loyal. The fate of MSU now was to be determined by Lambdin (71). Failing to connect his shot and missing, the game was decided.
Amidst the “boos” of State fans and the rambunctious singing of the blue-blooded Michigan fans, the trophy was presented to Michigan, handshakes shared and team photos taken. Underneath the disappointment of loss and the joy of victory however, there is the underlying tribute to the great arena where they now share these moments. Hoisting a trophy on the same ice as many of the NHL’s greatest players, were college kids reaching for the same dream. Rivalries come and go, the game changes, as do fans, but the history and the love for the game never fades.