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Neil's Notebook: Spartans Have Good, Bad News From Friday

Mike Merrifield

Jan. 14, 2012

Recap |  Final Stats

By Neil Koepke, staff writer

It was kind of a bad news, good news night for Michigan State on Friday at Munn Arena.

The bad news?

  • The Spartans played a solid, fast-paced, responsible third period but blew a chance to earn a victory and three points when they gave up the tying goal to Northern Michigan with 26 seconds left on the clock.

  • MSU, which fell behind 2-0 but rallied to take leads of 4-2 and 5-3, shot itself in the skate by giving up goals in the last minute of the first period, the second period and third period. Ouch.

    The good news?

  • MSU salvaged two points with a 1-0 win in the shootout after the Spartans and the Wildcats hooked up in a crazy CCHA series opener, full of fluke goals, that eventually ended in a 5-5 tie.

  • The Spartans, who scored only one goal in two losses last weekend against Miami, erupted for four in the first period and got their fifth goal six minutes into the middle period. MSU's first-period goals came with 3 minutes and 2 seconds and the first four came within 7:32.

    In the shootout, freshman right wing Matt Berry, MSU's second shooter, scored the only goal. Goalie Drew Palmisano sealed the shootout win when he played NMU's Reed Seckel's spin-o-rama move perfectly, and the puck slid slowly past the right post.

    And how's this for an amazing stat: The teams combined for 10 goals but none came on the power play. Each team went 0-for-3 with a man advantage.

    "I have mixed feelings on the game,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "They took a 2-0 lead but we fought back to take the lead, which we felt good about. But I don't think our energy level was where we wanted it to start the game.

    "Parts of the game, I was happy with. Other parts, I certainly didn't feel good about.''

    The tie ended MSU's three-game losing streak, and the five goals were the Spartans' best offensive output since a 5-1 victory over Bowling Green on Dec. 2. The last time MSU allowed five goals or more was against Ohio State in a 5-2 loss on Oct. 21.



    The shootout win, which gives MSU (11-9-3 overall, 6-7-2-2 CCHA) two points in league play, was the Spartans' second of the season. After battling Michigan to a 4-4 deadlock on Dec. 10, they captured the shootout, 1-0 in three rounds, with the same heroes. Berry scored the only goal and Palmisano didn't give up a goal and made a great play on the final shot to ensure the win.

    The Spartans and Wildcats (10-7-5, 6-6-5-2 CCHA) meet in the series and season finale at 7 p.m. Saturday. The series stands at 1-1-1, as the teams split two games in Marquette in November.

    "I have a hard time calling these shootout wins a win,'' Anastos said. "It certainly feels better at being on the right side of the shootout. But it doesn't feel like a real win.

    "We have to play better in our own defensive zone. When you score five goals, you've got to win it. On the other hand, if you want to feel good, it's not often that you come out of a game in which you give up five goals and without losing.''

    One reason for Anastos' mixed feelings is the game goes down as a tie on MSU's overall record and the Spartans need to boost their victory total, both for NCAA and CCHA considerations.

    Another reason is Anastos' team held a 5-3 lead going into the final minute of the second period, only to give up another goal that was initiated from the point. NMU defenseman Scott Macaulay scored on a shot from the left point on a shot that appeared to go off a Spartan in front with 13 seconds left on the clock.

    MSU maintained its one-goal lead for 19 full minutes of the third period, giving up only a few quality scoring chances. But Palmisano was alert and the Spartans appeared ready to hold on for a much-need victory.

    Mistakes and another bad bounce in the final minute spoiled the night for MSU.

    Spartan defenseman Torey Krug tried to lift the puck out of the zone and shot it into the NMU bench, resulting in a faceoff back in the MSU zone with 45.6 seconds left. After an icing, the Wildcats won the faceoff in the right circle with 35 seconds left and got it back NMU defenseman Kyle Follmer along the right boards.

    MSU's Mike Merrifield charged out and deflected Follmer's shot and the puck came close to sliding out of the zone, but Follmer kept it in and backhanded it along the right boards toward the corner.

    But the puck hit the skate of a linesman and bounced loose in the right circle. Krug had left the front of the net to go behind it in attempt to retrieve the puck. But Seckel jumped on the puck in the circle and quickly sent it toward the crease, where standout senior right wing Tyler Gron tipped it into the net with 26 seconds left on the clock.

    "It was a series of breaks and mistakes,'' Anastos said of the tying goal. "Northern plays physical, they're hard to contain down low and are a good team.''

    The Wildcats' first two goals came on deflections off shots from the points. MSU got goals from five different players -- Chris Forfar, Mike Merrifield, Anthony Hayes and Kevin Walrod in the first period and Tim Buttery in the second.

    "Overall, I thought we played pretty well. We battled through some adversity and kept our composure and that was huge,'' Merrifield said. "But we really need to be more defensive in the last minute of periods. We gave up three goals, and that's not like us.

    "We battled back, played a solid third period, except for the last 30 seconds and a fluke goal happens. I think this (tie) is a little bittersweet. We end up getting only two points. But Northern is a good team and I give them credit. They never gave up. We have to get better and (not allow) those last-minute goals.''

    Palmisano, who made some clutch stops in the third period and overtime, made 28 saves overall. NMU goalie Reid Ellingson gave up all five goals and made 11 saves before being replaced by Jared Coreau soon after Buttery's goal early in the second period. Coreau stopped 19 shots in 38 minutes and 9 seconds of work.

    Said Anastos, "I'm eager to watch the game back because how some of the pucks deflected and got in . . . . well, I need another look. There were a lot of misdirected pucks out there.''

    MERRIFIELD THRIVES IN RETURN: Senior Mike Merrifield was back in the lineup Friday after missing four games with a separated shoulder, and he was one of the Spartans' best players.

    Like Anastos said earlier this week, Merrifield provides speed, great energy and is good at going to the net and finding the puck.

    He did that on Friday, and finished off a nice centering feed from linemate Lee Reimer and fired the puck past NMU goaltender Reid Ellingson at 13:42 of the second period, tying it at 2-2. The goal was Merrifield's ninth of the season, a team high. He's missed eight games overall due to injuries.

    "He was excellent. I'm sure he's tired. It's tough to be out as long as he was,'' Anastos said. "He gave us the kind of energy we need. He went to the net and made things happen. He logged a lot of ice time.''

    Said Merrifield, "It felt great. It felt good to be out there and getting on the board early. I'm happy to score but it's a team game. I'm happy for the boys that we got the shootout win.''

    BERRY A SHOOTOUT SAVIOR: The Spartans are 2-0 in shootouts and freshman Matt Berry is a perfect 2 for 2 in shootout attempts using the same move. He drove down the middle, faked a move to his right, then pulled the puck back and went to his backhand to beat the 6-foot-5 Coreau.

    "I was a little nervous. But the backhand is kind of my move right now so I stuck to that,'' Berry said.

    Anastos said Berry likes his role in the shootout and approaches it with confidence.

    "He likes doing it. When you have confidence is something, you feel good about it,'' Anastos said. "He's scores regularly on it. He's been very good.''

    The Spartans started the shootout with Dean Chelios getting stopped by Coreau on his backhander. NMU's Andrew Cherniwchan followed by firing the puck off the post.

    After Berry lifted MSU fans out of their seats with a perfect backhander, Palmisano made a nice left pad save on Tyler Gron's attempt. MSU's Brett Perlini had a chance to wrap up the shootout victory but Coreau made the save.

    Seckel, a redshirt freshman, went in deep and tried his spin-o-rama move but fell in the crease area as he was turning and he and didn't get off a firm backhand shot and it missed the net on the right.

    "I was trying to do what I've been doing. We practice that every week,'' said Palmisano, who has started five of the last six games. "I was just trying to make myself look as big as I can. You try to let the shooter make the first move and react from there.''

    THIRD LINE STANDS OUT: Anastos said that his team's checking line - Anthony Hayes centering Chris Forfar and Trevor Nill - was MSU's best unit of the game.

    "When we went down 2-0, we were looking for a line that would create some energy. The Hayes line did that,'' he said. "We were looking for the next play. The first goal (by Forfar from the slot) was from going to the net. That's what we started to do and we got rewarded.''

    Forfar, who had four shots on goal, had a goal and an assist. Defenseman Jake Chelios chipped in with two assists, and Kevin Walrod had one goal and one assist.

    THAT GUY AGAIN? When NMU edged the Spartans 2-1 to gain a series split on Nov. 19 in Marquette, junior left wing Brian Nugent scored the game-winnner for the Wildcats with 4:30 left in the third period.

    On Friday, Nugent was back at it, giving his team a 1-0 lead at 1:32 of the first period as he tipped in a shot from the left point. Nugent has two goals this season -both against the Spartans.

    STANDINGS UPDATE: With the two points for the shootout success, the Spartans gained some ground on a few teams but still remained in ninth place with 22 points with 15 games played. They're only one point behind eighth-place Ferris State (23), three in back of NMU (25) and Lake Superior State (25) and four away from fifth-place Michigan (26).

    MSU has two games in hand on NMU, LSSU, Michigan, fifth-place Miami (27 points) and first-place Ohio State (34)

    On Friday, Ferris State tied Alaska 4-4, but lost in the shootout. Miami edged LSSU, 2-1, Michigan blanked Ohio State, 4-0, and Western Michigan, now in second place, rallied with two goals in the third period to edge Notre Dame, 3-2, in South Bend. With 27 points, the Irish are tied with Miami for third.

    The Buckeyes' loss was only their second since suffering a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Spartans on Oct. 20. OSU is 12-2-3 since losing at MSU.

    The second game of the Michigan-Ohio State series is at 5 p.m. Sunday outdoors in downtown Cleveland. It's the Frozen Diamond Faceoff at Progressive Field, the home of the Cleveland Indians.

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