June 4, 2007
Michigan State was making its 25th all-time appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and evened its all-time record in the championship event at 28-28-1. MSU captured its third national championship (1966, 1986, 2007), in its 11th Frozen Four trip in school history. MSU was making its first appearance in the Frozen Four since 2001, and its first championship game appearance since 1987. Michigan State owns an all-time mark of 8-8-0 in the Frozen Four, including a 5-6-0 mark in the national semifinals and 3-2-0 in the finals.
MSU made its third trip to the NCAA's (and first Frozen Four appearance) in the five-year tenure of head coach Rick Comley. The Spartans are 5-2 under Comley in NCAA play. Comley is one of just three coaches in college hockey history to lead two programs to National Championships. He previously led Northern Michigan to the 1991 title in an epic, 8-7 triple overtime victory. He joins Ned Harkness (Cornell, Rensselaer) and Jerry York (Bowling Green, Boston College) on this elite list.
Goaltender Jeff Lerg's career NCAA numbers are among the best in the tournament's history. He boasts a 1.50 goals against average in six career tournament games, which ties Denver's Gerry Powers (1968-69) for third in NCAA history. Lerg's .949 save percentage (169 of 178 shots stopped) places him fourth all-time. In the 2007 tournament, Lerg boasted a 1.25 GAA and .954 save percentage.
Justin Abdelkader was named the Frozen Four Most Valuable Player, as he scored the game-winning tally with 18.9 seconds remaining in the game. It was the latest game-winning goal scored in regulation in NCAA Tournament history. Abdelkader was joined on the All-Tournament team by linemate Tim Kennedy, blueliner Tyler Howells, and Jeff Lerg.
The Spartans received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament field. MSU finished fourth in the CCHA regular-season race and earned a first-round bye. In postseason play, MSU swept its CCHA quarterfinal series against Nebraska-Omaha, then rebounded from a semifinal loss to archrival Michigan (4-1) to defeat Lake Superior State in overtime (7-6) in the consolation game. The third seed in the Midwest Regional, Michigan State dispatched second-seeded Boston University (5-1) before downing top-ranked and regional top seed Notre Dame, 2-1, in the regional final. In the Frozen Four, Michigan State rallied from a 2-0 deficit early to post a 4-2 win over Maine in the semifinals. The Spartans again had to come from behind in the final, trailing 1-0 at the second intermission before putting three goals on the board in the final frame - the game-winner with just 18.9 seconds remaining in regulation - for a 3-1 victory over Boston College.
With a 26-13-3 record, Michigan State has won 20+ games in 15 straight seasons. The Spartans went 13-3-1 at home, 6-9-1 on the road, and 7-1-1 in neutral-site games in 2006-07. In postseason games (CCHA and NCAA Tournaments) the last two seasons, the Spartans own a 12-2 record.
With its overall record of 26-13-3, Michigan State had the second-most losses by a National Championship team in NCAA Tournament history, and the most since the 1981 Wisconsin club which went 27-14-1. The 1976 Minnesota title team and the 1966 titlists from Michigan State also had 13 losses on their ledgers in championship seasons. The Spartans also had the fewest wins of an NCAA champion (26) since the 1972 Boston University Terriers.
The crowd of 19,432 announced for the April 7 championship game was the largest in NCAA Tournament history. The previous record of 19,327 was set in 2002 at the XCel Center in St. Paul, Minn., when Minnesota downed Maine, 4-3 in overtime, in the title tilt.
In each of the last five NCAA title games, the champion has held its opponent to a goal or less. This year was no exception, as Jeff Lerg held the potent Boston College offense - which had scored no fewer than four goals in each of its previous three NCAA Tournament games - to a single goal, a second-period Brian Boyle power play tally.
During the Rick Comley era, the Spartans have traditionally been a second-half team. The first three months (October, November, December) of the previous four seasons (2002-06), the Spartans have gone 37-34-7 (.519), then compiled a 55-27-8 mark in January, February, and March (.656). With an 11-7-1 mark through the end of 2006, this year's Spartans were four games over .500, the most in Comley's tenure. His first team (2002-03) was 8-8-1 at the break, while his next three squads were all one game over .500: 10-9-1 in 2003-04, 10-9-1 in 2004-05, and 9-8-4 in 2005-06. The trend of second-half surges continued into 2007, as Michigan State went 19-6-2 its final 27 games.
Michigan State played 14 games this season against ranked opponents, going 7-6-1 in those contests, and all opponents were in the top 10 at the time of the game. Only two of MSU's 14 games against ranked teams came at Munn - Nov. 3 against No. 9 Michigan (6-2 W) and Nov. 18 against No. 5/6 Notre Dame (2-0 W). MSU went 2-1 against teams ranked No. 1 at the time of the game this season, and both victories came in the NCAA Tournament: Notre Dame in the Midwest Regional final (2-1) and Boston College (3-1) in the title game. MSU's loss came at Minnesota, 5-4.
On 20 occasions this season, the Spartans scored a goal in the first or final minute of a period. MSU scored four times in the opening 60 seconds, and the Spartans tallied 16 goals in the final minute of play in a period. Eight of those goals were empty-netters, but one - Justin Abdelkader's at Northern Michigan on Dec. 9 - stood as the game-winner in a 3-2 MSU win. Michigan State owned a record of 10-1-1 in games in which it scored a goal in the final minute of a period, and 2-2-0 when it scored a goal in the opening minute of a frame.
Special teams were crucial to the Spartans postseason success this year, particularly its prowess on the penalty kill. MSU's man-down unit was an impressive 16-for-17 in the NCAA Tournament; the PK extinguished 42 of its last 46 chances against (91.3 percent), and did not allow a man-advantage goal in seven of its last ten games. On the year, the penalty kill executed at 86.7 percent (170 of 196).
Jeff Lerg started all 42 games this season and played 2465:06 in the Spartan net, which calculated to 96.9 percent of the time possible - the highest percentage of any netminder in the CCHA and the second- highest percentage in the country. Nationally, Cory Schneider of Boston College topped the list having played 99.2% of available minutes (2516:33).
No Spartan player has been bigger in the postseason the last two years than sophomore netminder Jeff Lerg. As a freshman, he earned CCHA Tournament MVP honors as he backstopped MSU to its 11th tournament title. He then had an impressive performance in the NCAA East Regional, posting the first NCAA Tournament shutout for Michigan State with a 1-0 victory over New Hampshire before the Spartans bowed out, 5-4, to Maine in the regional final.
This year, Lerg earned Midwest Regional MVP honors with a pair of one-goal performances against BU and Notre Dame, then earned a spot on the Frozen Four All-Tournament squad with just three goals allowed in two games.
Jeff Lerg has moved into the top ten in several netminding categories at Michigan State: Career wins (43), ninth; career games played (73), T-10th; career GAA (2.22), third; career save percentage (.920), T-second; career shutouts (6), T-fifth; Wins in a season (26), T-fifth; games played, season (42), T-first; saves, season (1,042), fourth.
Bryan Lerg emerged as one of the most dangerous - and exciting to watch - forwards in the CCHA. His 23 goals led the Spartans and bettered his single-season career high by eight markers. The junior led the country with eight game-winning goals, and in addition, he has also assisted on five other Spartan game-winners. His eight game-winning goals is tied for the highest single-season total all-time at Michigan State, shared with Mitch Messier (1986-87) and Steve Beadle (1989-90).
Only five Spartans have appeared in all 42 contests this season. Goaltender Jeff Lerg played and started in every game, and four skaters were in the lineup every night: senior Tyler Howells, juniors Chris Mueller and Daniel Vukovic, and sophomore Tim Kennedy.
Player Streaks: Tim Kennedy ends the season on a career-best seven-game point streak (5 goals, 5 assists)... Justin Abdelkader closed out the season registering a point in five of six games en route to being named MVP of the Frozen Four (goal, six assists)... Chris Mueller ended the season registering a point in nine of 10 games dating back to Feb. 22 at Bowling Green (6-6-12). MSU never lost this season when Mueller scored a goal, going 14-0-0, including a 5-0-0 mark in the 2007 postseason.
Player career superlatives: Senior Brandon Warner has a pair of goals and three assists this season, which nearly doubles his career totals entering the year (1-2-3). Bryan Lerg's 23 goals betters his previous single-season best of 15, set last year. Justin Abdelkader's 15 goals pushed him past the 10 he netted as a freshman, and Chris Mueller topped his career best of 11, with 16 on the year. Daniel Vukovic has scored six goals this season (after netting just one in his first two collegiate seasons combined) and has 12 points on the year after a combined five in his freshman and sophomore campaigns. Jeff Dunne, who had six assists as a freshman and no points in an injury-shortened sophomore year, has ten helpers this season. Dunne scored his first career goal in the Spartans final regular-season game. Senior Ethan Graham posted a career high for assists (12).
Justin Abdelkader posted the first goal of the 2006-07 campaign, just 1:44 into the opener against Western Michigan. Of course, he also scored the most important of the season, the game-winner in the NCAA title game with 18.9 seconds remaining. That was the latest the Spartans scored a non-empty net goal this year. Abdelkader also scored the first goal of the 2005-06 season, at the 2:03 mark of the first period against Wayne State in the Lefty McFadden Invitational in Dayton, Ohio.
Michigan State owned a 18-4-0 record when Justin Abdelkader registered a point, 14-0-0 when Chris Mueller scored a goal, 8-1-1 when Tim Crowder lights the lamp, 12-0-1 when Jim McKenzie has an assist, and 9-0-0 when Jeff Dunne has a helper.
The Spartans own a team GPA of 2.92, and have several academic standouts. Ten members of the team were honored at the Student-Athlete Support Services Academic Gala on Monday, April 9: Justin Abdelkader, Tim Crowder, Jeff Dunne, Ethan Graham, Tim Kennedy, Kurt Kivisto, Jeff Lerg, Zak McClellan, Steve Mnich, and Daniel Vukovic. To be honored at the Academic Gala, student-athletes must have a 3.0 GPA over the previous three semesters or a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0
The hockey program is most active team in community service intiatives on the Michigan State campus. Nine members of the team are involved in the Big Brothers program, spearheaded by seniors Chris Lawrence and Tyler Howells. Chris Snavely has continued to be deeply involved in the Spartans Buddies program, which was founded by former Spartan Drew Miller. The program pairs athletes with the pediatric patients - some critically and terminally ill - at nearby Sparrow Hospital. Among the other athletes involved with Spartan Buddies are Tim Kennedy, Jeff Lerg, and Justin Abdelkader. Jeff Lerg is also very involved with the local chapter of the American Lung Association and has helped raise awareness of sports-related asthma. In addition, members of the hockey team are involved with countless other initiatives, which include raising money for the Children's Miracle Network, Adopt-a-Family/Teams for Toys program around the holidays, a Trick-or-Treat night for children with cancer, and participation in a charity wheelchair hockey game.
Looking ahead to the 2007-08 season, the Spartans are scheduled to open on October 13 in the Hall of Fame Game at North Dakota. Non-conference sets against Colgate and Mercyhurst will be played at Munn Arena in addition to the traditional games in the College Hockey Showcase against Minnesota and Wisconsin; the Spartans will also look to defend their Great Lakes Invitational crown in December at Joe Louis Arena in addition to the 28-game CCHA slate. Michigan State's CCHA cluster will feature Michigan, Northern Michigan, and Lake Superior State.