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Neil's Notebook: Spartans Need Better Saturday Effort

Feb. 25, 2012

By Neil Koepke, staff writer

For sure, Notre Dame has had Michigan State's number in a big, big way over the last four seasons.

But the Spartans' 2-0 loss to the Irish on Friday night at Compton Family Arena in South Bend had nothing to do about the past. It was all about the present - and MSU's low work ethic.

"We didn't have everybody going tonight and we didn't have everybody willing to pay the price you need to win a game like this on the road,'' Spartans coach Tom Anastos said. "That's disappointing. We didn't do the things we talked about and worked on all week.''

MSU is now 0-8-3 against Notre Dame since the second half of the 2007-08 season. The Irish (17-15-3 overall, 12-12-3-0 CCHA) had lost five consecutive games coming into Friday night's series opener.

The two teams meet in the series and regular-season finale at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, with still a lot at stake for both teams.

The only good news on Friday for the 16th-ranked Spartans (18-13-4, 13-11-3-2) was they clinched a top-five finish in the CCHA and a first-round bye in the playoffs. That's because Lake Superior State lost at Northern Michigan, 6-2, and Ohio State lost at Miami, 3-0.

MSU, now in fifth place with 44 points, can finish third, fourth or fifth. Notre Dame (39 points), in a three-way tie for seventh, can end up anywhere from sixth to ninth.

With Miami's win, the RedHawks climbed over MSU and into fourth place, one point ahead of the Spartans, who are three points in back of second-place Western Michigan.

The Spartans can still get home ice for the first round (by finishing second, third, or fourth) with a victory over the Irish AND either a Miami loss at Ohio State or a Western Michigan loss at Ferris State. If MSU wins and both the RedHawks and Broncos lose, the Spartans would finish tied for third with WMU and get the No. 3 seed because of the first tiebreaker -- more conference victories (14 to 13).



The Spartans' first visit to the Irish's new $50 million arena on Friday, in front of a sellout crowd of 5,022, started with MSU sophomore right wing Greg Wolfe getting a good scoring chance 12 seconds into the game. But Wolfe, from in front of the net to the left, shot the puck wide to the left side.

With 2:21 left in the first period and MSU killing a penalty, junior center Chris Forfar charged in on a breakaway from the Irish blue line. He skated in close and fired the puck right into the glove of Irish goalie Steven Summerhays.

"I thought we had a pretty good first period. That's what's disappointing me even more,'' Anastos said. "Coming in here, I expected a lot out of us and we started with good jump. On the very first shift, we should have scored.''

Notre Dame took a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal by Jeff Costello at 2:31 of the second period. A Spartan fell down going out to cover the point and Austin's Wuthrich's slap shot got through to the net and was stopped by MSU goalie Will Yanakeff.

But the rebound squirted loose to Yanakeff's right and Costello backhanded the puck into the net.

Later in the period, the Spartans had a glorious chance to tie it on a nifty 2-on-1 rush with center Brent Darnell and left wing Kevin Walrod. Darnell, coming down the right wing, made a perfect centering pass to a Walrod, who was in the slot and staring at a wide-open net.

Walrod fired the puck but Summerhays sprawled across the crease, from his left to right, and turned his stick around and stopped the puck in mid-air with the paddle for Notre Dame's greatest save of the season.

Walrod thought he had his ninth goal of the year. Instead, it was just another shot on goal.

"I was surprised that Darnell passed it because I thought the defenseman was playing with a good stick on me, but he put it right on my tape and I had the wide-open net,'' Walrod said. "The goalie just made a great save.

"As soon as I released it, I said `that's a goal.' But it hit the paddle of his stick and deflected to the corner. I was shocked. That's the way it goes.''

And that's the way it went for the Spartans, who had won two games in a row and five of their last six.

The Irish, who have not received solid goaltending from either Summerhays or Mike Johnson over the past several weeks, got a huge boost from the save and went to take control of the game, limiting the visitors to only few good chances the rest of the game.

The Spartans, trailing 1-0, hoped to rebound in the final period but they spent most of it chasing Notre Dame, which held a 14-7 edge in shots and increased its lead to 2-0 on freshman Peter Schneider's first career goal, off an MSU misplay, at 9:54.

"In the second period and third periods, they took over the game and we got away from what we need to do to have success,'' Anastos said.

"They took advantage of two big mistakes - one on our penalty kill where we fell down going out to the point and then we mishandled the puck in our zone (on the second goal).''

Summerhays made 25 saves in posting Notre Dame's first shutout since December, 2009. Yanakeff, who stopped 30 shots, was sharp and alert and kept the Spartans in the game with several solid stops.

Every Spartan skater except defensemen Brock Shelgren and Tim Buttery and forward Dean Chelios had at least one shot on goal, but other than Wolfe, Forfar and Walrod, there weren't many Grade A scoring chances.

"They play a style that can suffocate you defensively, so you have to be willing to run through guys, willing to sacrifice yourself, and we didn't do that,'' Anastos said. "Line after line, we needed to sustain some forecheck and take the pressure off our defense.

"The defense had to play hard but we didn't have enough forwards going to create the same type of pressure the other way. Goals don't come naturally for us. We have to manufacture them. We weren't willing to pay the price.''

Defenseman Torey Krug also was critical of his team's work ethic.

"We knew how they would come out and that we would have to weather the storm and we did that,'' he said. "But they outworked us. They're a good team.

"We have to understand we're still in position for what we've fought for and that's what we'll be fighting for (on Saturday). We have to do the little things and not be a fancy team. We have to play tougher and outwork them. That has to be our mindset.''

Anastos was pleased the Spartans have a first-round bye in the playoffs but he wasn't doing any celebrating.

"That's backing in. I like driving in,'' he said. "I want to make it happen, not watch it happen.''

Once again, the Spartans' most important game of the season is at hand. A victory on Saturday gives MSU a chance to host a second-round series but it also would provide a boost of confidence entering postseason fun.

And lessen the bad taste from Friday's performance.

  • HAIL TO THE OUTRIGHT CHAMPS: Ferris State wrapped up the CCHA regular-season title on Friday while its game with Western Michigan was still going on. That's because second-place Michigan, the only team with a chance at tying the Bulldogs, was upset by Bowling Green, 4-3.

    Twenty-six minutes later, after WMU and FSU played to a 1-1 tie, the Broncos earned the extra point with 1-0 victory in a shootout which lasted seven rounds.

    The Bulldogs (22-8-5, 16-6-5-1), ranked No. 1 in both major polls, have 54 points, seven more than U-M and WMU. Ferris State also finished first in 2003.

  • DOWN TO THE WIRE: Heading into Saturday's final night of the CCHA regular season, only three teams know its final seeded spot in the standings - Ferris State (first), Alaska (10th) and Bowling Green (11th).

    Michigan can finish second, third or fourth; Western Michigan can finish and Miami can end up in second, third, fourth or fifth; MSU's range is third to fifth. (The Spartans can tie U-M for second but the Wolverines would win the second tiebreaker, 2-1-1 in head-to-head play, and earn the No. 2 seed.)

    Sixth-place LSSU can finish no higher than sixth but can slide as low as 9th place.

    Notre Dame, Ohio State and Northern Michigan are tied for seventh place, with 39 points and two points behind LSSU. The three teams can finish as high as sixth and as low as ninth.

    Teams finishing sixth, seventh and eighth host first-round, best-of-three series against the No. 11, 10 and 9 seeds, respectively. The three winners are re-seeded and advance to the second round against the No. 1-3 seeded teams. It's No. 1 vs. No. 8; No. 2 vs. No. 7 and No. 3. vs. No. 6. In addition, the fourth-place finisher plays host to the fifth-place team.

  • SCORING RACE: MSU defenseman Torey Krug and Notre Dame center T.J. Tynan still share the CCHA scoring lead in conference games despite not getting a point in Friday's 2-0 win by the Irish. But the race is now tighter behind Krug and Tynan.

    Krug, with 10 goals and 18 assists, and Tynan, with eight goals and 20 assists, have 28 points a piece, but Northern Michigan forwards Justin Florek and Tyler Gron are only one and two points behind, respectively.

    Florek had a goal and two assists and Gron had a goal and an assist in the Wildcats' 6-2 victory over Lake Superior State on Friday.

    Florek has 11 goals and 16 assists for 27 points, while Gron has 11 goals and 15 assists for 26 points. The Wildcats again host the Lakers on Saturday.

  • PAIRWISE WATCHING: For what it's worth, the Spartans fell from No. 10 to No. 12 in the ever-changing PairWise Rankings. The PWR is a system which attempts to mimic the method used by the NCAA Selection Committee to select and seed teams in the 16-team NCAA Tournament.

    Miami, after its 3-0 win over Ohio State, moved from 11th to a tie with Minnesota for No. 7. Boston College is still No. 1 with Ferris State No. 2 and Michigan No. 4.

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