Neil's Notebook: Spartans' Poise, Resiliency Pays Off
Jan. 21, 2012
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
One week ago, Michigan State was in a bit of a funk, trying to deal with a four-game winless (0-3-1) streak.
But things can change fast in the world of college hockey.
Today, the Spartans are feeling a lot better, thanks to a two-game winning streak and a three-game unbeaten stretch.
For the third time in its last six games, MSU on Friday was faced with major disappointment by giving up the tying goal late in the third period. But like the Spartans have done often this season, they showed some poise and resiliency and orchestrated a happy ending.
Less than two minutes after Lake Superior State scored a fluke goal to pull even with MSU at 2-2, the Spartans struck right back as junior left wing Kevin Walrod fired in a loose puck just outside the crease after a great rush and wrap-around attempt by sophomore Jake Chelios to give his team a one-goal edge with 1:10 left.
The Spartans (13-9-3 overall, 8-7-2-2) survived a strong flurry by the Lakers (13-11-3, 8-9-2-2) and wrapped up a Central College Hockey Association victory when junior defenseman Torey Krug scored into an empty net from inside his blue line for a 4-2 win in front of 4,766 fans at Munn Arena.
"I liked the poise that our guys showed. I just told them that `we're going to score the next goal,''' Anastos said, referring to his team's reaction after losing its 2-1 lead with 3:10 to go in the final period. "There was good leadership on the bench and a kind of quiet confidence.
"After that play, we seemed to turn it up a notch. We showed a lot of heart, coming off a goal like that. That's a tough goal to give up.''
MSU, now tied with LSSU for 7th place, will try to complete a sweep of the series when the two teams collide at 7 p.m. tonight at Munn Arena.
The Spartans fell behind 1-0 just 28 seconds into the game as Lakers captain and senior left wing Fred Cassiani stole the puck behind the net, came out front and shot and then flipped in the rebound.
Mike Merrifield tied it for MSU at 9:03 of the first period, gathering the puck off the boards and firing it in the right corner, and Brent Perlini game the Spartans a 2-1 lead with an unassisted goal, beating Lakers goalie Kevin Kapalka from the left circle at 11:02.
Goalie Will Yanakeff, who made a career-high 45 saves, had an excellent game in holding off the quick-shooting Lakers, who had 89 attempts at the net. MSU helped it cause by blocking shots.
But with 2:58 left, the Spartans found themselves tied 2-2 thanks to LSSU sophomore Kellan Lain being in the right place at the right time. From behind the net, MSU defenseman Matt Crandell tried to make a breakout pass toward the left boards, but the puck hit the forechecking Lain in the shinpad and caromed back into the left corner of the net near the post and came out, stunning the Spartans and their fans.
"I called for the puck and the Lake Superior guy did a good forechecking job on Crandell and (the puck) took a lucky bounce and ended up in the net,'' junior left wing Chris Forfar said.
The Spartans may have felt like sagging mentally over their misfortune but they didn't.
"We've been harping on (losing leads) because of what's happened in the last few weeks,'' Walrod said. "When it happened again, we really made an effort to have a strong shift and we followed that up and got the (winning) goal.
"Just being positive on the bench helps a lot. Coach and (captain Torey) Krug are telling us to keep our chins up and come back with strong shifts.''
One minute and 48 seconds later, it was the Lakers who were downcast.
"I saw that Jake had a head of steam coming up my wing (on the left) and I told him to `go, go' and not give it up and I saw him go wide,'' Walrod said. "He went behind the net and I just went to the net, thinking he might throw it out front. He did and I was lucky enough to see the puck in front of the crease and I put it in.''
The goal was Walrod's eighth of the season. He came into his junior season with three goals during his first two seasons.
MSU still had 1:10 left to prevent what happened in a 3-2 overtime loss to Michigan in the GLI in late December and a 5-5 tie against Northern Michigan last Friday.
"When they pulled their goalie (with a minute left), and even though their shots were flying all over the place, I thought we stayed with we wanted to do,'' Anastos said.
"We banged loose pucks to safe areas. We played it better.''
Krug made sure there would be no last-second heartbreak. He got control of the puck in his own zone and saw an open lane down the middle of the ice and found the open net with an unassisted goal from 120 feet.
"We're happy with the result, although we're thinking that there are parts of our game, that if we want to give ourselves a good chance to win (on Saturday), we're going to have to clean things up,'' Anastos said.
"I really like (Lake Superior's) team. They're faster than I thought, from the last time we played them (in October). That's a real good team. I say that every week but it's true.''
Anastos liked the way his team played at times in the offensive zone by possessing the puck, but wasn't happy with what was happening in the neutral zone.
"We were sloppy, particularly in the first period,'' he said. "We made a lot of sloppy decisions and allowed them to pound the puck back in and us having to keep retreating and playing in our zone.
"There's a huge size differential,'' Anastos said of the bigger Lakers. "Their reach when they're down low and protecting the puck creates challenges for us and I thought we battled through it.
"I don't get caught up in shots on goal. But they outchanced us (with good scoring attempts). We have to reduce that.''
Kapalka made 23 saves, including only three in the third period but 11 in the scoreless second period.
YANAKEFF IN SYNC: MSU sophomore goaltender Will Yanakeff, making his second straight start, had to be alert from start to finish, as the Lakers fired shots his way from all over the ice.
He stopped 17 shots in the opening period, 15 in the second, and made 13 saves in the third period. He was especially sharp on LSSU's only power play of the game midway through the second period. Yanakeff made four saves to keep his team up 2-1.
"It was a good game from the drop of the puck. The first, quick goal they had was a bit frustrating,'' he said. "I just wanted to keep working hard. It was a good game by everyone. Everyone worked hard.''
Yanakeff is now 8-4-0, with a 2.43 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.
"It was a very good performance. Positionally, he was very sound,'' Anastos said. "Tonight, certain pucks hit Will and bounced to the right areas. He played with poise and was under control.''
UNSUNG HERO: Anastos said Chris Forfar was one the Spartans best players on Friday for his defensive play and overall work ethic.
"He's one of those unsung guys that does so many little things all game long and doesn't get recognized on highlights or on the scoresheet,'' the Spartans coach said. "He plays so strong along the boards. He's been playing really well and had another strong game tonight.
"We all know my role isn't to be a flashy player. I leave that to the guys with more skill than me,'' Forfar said. "I try to do what I can by blocking shots, getting the puck out and playing sound defensively. And getting hits in and getting the team going.''
NO POWER PLAY FRUSTRATION: MSU has had some struggled with its power play in recent games but there was no way to work on some of the things the Spartans focused in practice this week. Only six penalties were called on Friday and there was only one full power play - by the Lakes starting at 8:07 of the second period.
Officially, the Spartans were 0-1 on the power play, one that lasted just 3.4 seconds after two penalties were assessed on the Lakers and one on MSU with 3.4 seconds left in the game.
STANDINGS CHANGE: The top four teams in the standings going into Friday's games all lost - Ohio State, Western Michigan, Michigan and LSSU. Teams from 5th to 8th - Notre Dame, Miami, Ferris State and MSU all won.
Notre Dame defeated U-M, 3-1; Miami topped WMU, 3-1; Ferris State upended Ohio State, 4-3, and last-place Bowling Green won 3-1 at 10-th place Alaska.
The Buckeyes (34 points) and Broncos (33) remained No. 1 and 2 in the CCHA but the Irish and RedHawks climbed from a tie for 5th into a tie for third with 30 points. FSU moved up from from 7th to tied with U-M for 5th, each with 29 points.
The Spartans and Lakers, with 28 points apiece, are one point behind the Wolverines and Bulldogs and two in back of Notre Dame and Miami.
MSU has two games in hand on OSU, U-M, LSSU, Miami, NMU and Alaska.