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Neil's Notebook: 'That's Hockey'

Trevor Nill

Feb. 12, 2012

Recap |  Final Stats

By Neil Koepke, staff writer

Former Spartan forward Bryan Lerg used to be very good in summing up heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, horrible, annoying losses.

Lerg, who played at Michigan State from 2004-2008, used to break down a crushing defeat and go over the "what ifs" and "if only had that happened or didn't happen,'' and then pause for a moment and put it all in perspective.

"Hey, that's hockey. Things happen. We've all been through it. You deal with it, accept it and move on,'' Lerg would tell the media.

If Lerg was playing for the Spartans on Saturday night at Joe Louis Arena, he'd be using his familiar "that's hockey" line again.

MSU, going for a weekend sweep of Michigan after a 3-2 win on Friday, suffered another painful loss to the Wolverines in a well-played, exciting and high-energy game that came down to two bad bounces - one that U-M survived and one that the Spartans didn't.

Kevin Lynch's goal, set up by a fluke bounce of the puck in the left circle, at 1:50 of overtime gave the Wolverines a 3-2 victory over MSU in front of an announced sellout crowd of 20,066.

U-M right wing Derek DeBlois' harmless-looking flip of the puck into the offensive zone from outside the blue line along the right boards bounced in front of MSU defenseman Matt Crandell, who went to his knees in an attempt to keep the puck from bouncing over his stick. Instead, the puck slipped under Crandell's stick and slid to a wide-open Lynch, who shot it past MSU goalie Will Yanakeff and into the left corner of the net for the game-winner.

The Spartans found themselves with a fortunate bounce with 3:38 left in the third period but the end result wasn't as satisfying.

MSU's Chris Forfar tipped a U-M defenseman clearing pass in the right corner and the puck caromed into the front of the net toTrevor Nill of the Spartans. But Nill's quick shot was stopped by goalie Shawn Hunwick to keep the game at 2-2.



"Losing is tough, no matter how it happens. A good play or a bad play,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "We had our chances at the other end. It's a game-losing goal so it is tough either way.''

The Spartans played a spirited, energetic, high-end game and so did the Wolverines, who led 1-0 after one period and fell behind 2-1 early in the second, but tied it soon after MSU took the lead, and one shift after Hunwick made a breakaway save on Brett Perlini to prevent the Spartans from going up 3-1.

As Lerg would say, "That's hockey.''

So, MSU's quest for a perfect weekend with a sweep of Michigan fell short but a split still boosted the Spartans higher in the CCHA standings.

MSU (16-12-4 overall, 11-10-3-2 CCHA) fell from a third-place tie to a fifth-place deadlock with Lake Superior State with 38 points apiece, three behind third-place Michigan (18-10-4, 12-8-4-1) and one in back of fourth-place Ohio State, which has played two more games than every CCHA team except Alaska.

"It's hard to win two consecutive games against a good team. And Michigan's a very good team,'' Anastos said. "I was happy how hard our guys competed. We did make too many mistakes to end up winning and not taking advantage of some of the situations we had.

"I'm not into moral victories but you have to learn things from losing, too. We'll take some things away from this.''

The Spartans scored two goals in less than three minutes early in the second period to overcome a 1-0 deficit and take a 2-1 lead. Greg Wolfe tied it on a one-timer from the slot that rocketed into the top right corner at 3:32. Perlini finished off a nice passing play with Lee Reimer and Torey Krug on a power play and fired the puck high into the top right corner from the right side of the net at 6:14.

Two minutes later, Perlini cruised in on a breakaway but Hunwick made a clutch chest save to keep his team from going down by two goals. After a media timeout and subsequent faceoff in the U-M zone, the Wolverines tied it 2-2 on A.J. Treais' second goal of the game and third of the series. Treais beat Yanakeff with a hard wrister that caught the top left corner at 8:31.

Both teams had good chances to score in the chaotic third period with the puck bouncing dangerously around both creases. And for the second time in a month-and-half, the Wolverines made a play in overtime to skate off with a 3-2 victory, just as they did in the Great Lakes Invitational final in December.

"What I told our team is that if we're able to get ourselves in a situation where you play one-and-done hockey, you can't let up for a minute,'' Anastos said. "It also tells us we have experience playing on a bigger stage in front of lots of people.

"And in a very tense game, we demonstrated we can compete with anyone we play.''

  • OH SO CLOSE: Trevor Nill said he had to react quickly when the puck bounced off of the stick of the forechecking Chris Forfar and came to him in the slot.

    "You think `do I shoot right away or make a move?''' Nill said. "It thought I had him caught out of the net so I shot it right away. In hindsight, maybe I had more time and I could have made a move. But that's the way it goes.''

    Depsite the loss, Nill, a senior right wing alternate captain from Novi, liked the way his team competed with the No. 4/6-ranked Wolverines.

    "It's a tough loss but I liked the way we battled. It was three great periods of hockey for both sides,'' he said. "I liked the way we competed throughout the whole game and series.

    "We fell behind in both games but battled back to tie it. (Will) Yanakeff played two great games.''

  • JUST ABOUT EVEN: The final statistics sheet told the story of a close, evenly-played game.

    Shots on goal: MSU 35, Michigan 35.

    Total shots attempted: MSU 71, Michigan 64

    Blocked shots: Michigan 11, MSU 7

    Shots off post or crossbar: MSU 2, U-M 2

    Saves: Yanakeff 32, Hunwick 33.

    Power plays: MSU 1-for-2; UM 0-for-1.

    Faceoffs won: MSU 33, U-M 26

  • UP NEXT: The Spartans play their final regular-season home games with a series against Alaska at 7 p.m. on Friday and 8 p.m. on Saturday. It's Senior Night on Saturday and nine seniors will be honored as they play in their final regular-season home game

    The seniors include goaltender Drew Palmisano, defensemen A.J. Sturges, Brock Shelgren, Matt Crandell and Tim Buttery and forwards Trevor Nill, Mike Merrifield, Brent Perlini and Daultan Leveille.

    MSU ends its regular season at Notre Dame on Feb. 24-25.

    Meanwhile, U-M, with a three-point edge on MSU and LSSU, face Northern Michigan on Friday and Saturday at Yost Arena. In the final weekend of the season, Michigan plays at Bowling Green.

  • ABDELKADER VISITS: On a Saturday night off before his Red Wings play the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday at Joe Louis Arena, former Spartan Justin Abdelkader came to JLA to support his alma mater in its game against Michigan.

    "It's fun to watch the guys in a game like this,'' he said. "It's a great crowd and the teams are really playing well.''

    Abdelkader, in his third season with the Red Wings, has developed into a rugged, tough forward who can make big hits and also chip in offensively. On Friday, he had the Wings' only goal in regulation time in a 2-1 shootout win over Anaheim. Last Wednesday, Abdelkader got into a fight with former Miami standout Ryan Jones of the Edmonton Oilers and had two assists in the Wings' 4-2 victory.

    "It's going very well. I'm playing a lot and really involved,'' he said. "And we've got a great team.''

    As a sophomore at MSU, Abdelkader scored the game-winning goal with 18.9 seconds left to give the Spartans the 2007 NCAA title with a 3-1 victory over Boston College in St. Louis.

    This season, Abdelkader has six goals and 10 assists for 16 points, 42 minutes in penalties and four fights in 56 games. He leads the Wings in hits with 101, which is tied for 51st in the NHL.

    Last season, Abdelkader scored seven goals and had 19 points and 61 penalty minutes in 74 games. He led Detroit in hits with 188.

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