March 17, 2007
DETROIT - Senior Tyler Howells played the role of overtime hero for the Michigan State hockey team as it defeated Lake Superior State, 7-6, in the CCHA Consolation Game Saturday afternoon at Joe Louis Arena. The extra session was necessary after Lake Superior State scored two goals in the final 67 seconds of regulation to send the game to overtime.
"This was a win that we had to get or else our season was probably over," Head Coach Rick Comley said. "I would never have dreamt that these two goaltenders would have given up 13 goals, but we'll take the win and look forward to next weekend."
After a tight-checking first five minutes of the game which resulted in little offense, Michigan State kicked the scoring off at 7:30 of the opening period. Working down low, captain Chris Lawrence out-muscled two Lakers defenders behind the net, then threw the puck in front to Bryan Lerg, who chipped his team-leading 23rd goal of the season over Jeff Jakaitis' glove.
The Spartans struck again at 11:23 of the first on Daniel Vukovic's fifth tally of the season. On a delayed penalty, Vukovic snuck in from his point position and buried a loose puck sitting in the slot for a 2-0 lead. Zak McClellan, who was crashing the net, collected his second assist of the season on play, while Lawrence claimed a helper to create his first career multi-point game.
Just 1:21 later, with Dan Eves in the box, the Spartans grit around the net paid off again. With Jim McKenzie providing a screen in front, Tim Crowder fired a shot that Jakaitis stopped, but McKenzie turned and swatted the rebound home for his second goal in as many games. The man-advantage marker was State's fourth of the 2007 playoffs.
The goals continued to come fast and furious as Lake Superior made it a 3-1 game at 14:32 of the first. A shot from the right face-off circle created a rebound that Steven Oleksy put into an open net for his first career tally.
Jeff Lerg opened the second period with what was possibly the save of the year, robbing Troy Schwab with a spectacular save with just seven seconds expired. Coming in on a two-on-one break, Schwab one-timed a cross-ice pass that looked to be destined for the twine. But, Lerg threw his stick across the gaping net, catching the puck with his paddle, and sending it to the corner. The momentum from that save helped the Green and White kill the remainder of a five-minute penalty to Abdelkader - the team's 10th consecutive penalty killed.
Midway through the second, Jakaitis proved why he is a two-time all-CCHA honoree, stopping countless prime scoring chances on back-to-back Spartan power plays. Minutes later, Lake Superior responded, making it a one-goal game. A defensive breakdown in front left Nathan Perkovich wide open. Jeff Rainville fed the 6-5 freshman, who deked to his backhand to beat Lerg.
The scoring frenzy continued at 9:22 of the middle frame, as Vukovic ripped a blast from the point for his second goal of the game. The North York, Ont., native collected the first two-goal game of his career with a one-timer from the left point. The shot found its way through a screen and grazed the crossbar as it beat Jakaitis.
LSSU narrowed the margin back to 4-3 at the second's 13:16 mark. With Daniel Sturges in the box for elbowing, Perkovich beat Lerg five-hole for his second tally of the game. The power play goal was just the second scored against MSU in the last five games.
A strong, consistent attack by the Spartans led to their fifth goal of the game at 5:25 of the third. A solid forecheck led to a Lakers turnover in the neutral zone, and Ethan Graham immediately sprung Chris Mueller loose on a one-on-one break. Mueller utilized the lone defenseman back as a screen, picking the bottom corner of the net for his 13th tally of the season.
Lake Superior once again answered with a marker of its own 2:31 later on Oleksy's second of the game to make it 5-4.
Matt Schepke scored the Spartans sixth goal with a fantastic two-way effort at the 14:20 mark of the third. After breaking the puck loose in the defensive zone, Schepke took a pass from Mueller and broke down the right side. He beat Jakaitis five-hole with a defender draped on his back for the sophomore's first goal since Nov. 7 against Ferris State.
With Jakaitis pulled for the extra attacker, in addition to a Spartan in the box, Perkovich potted his third goal of the game, burying a one-timer from the hash marks at 18:53. Forty-seven seconds later, Sim netted the equalizer on a mad scramble in front of the net to send the game to overtime.
The thrilling, 13-goal game ended in the Spartans favor just 13 seconds into a Ryan Baird penalty thanks to Howells. A powerful point shot by Vukovic ricocheted to the top of the left face-circle, in perfect position for the 5-8 defenseman to step in to. Howells ripped a snap shot past Jakaitis to all but ensure the Spartans a berth in the national tournament.
The Spartans will find out their placement in the NCAA Tournament tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 p.m. NCAA Regionals are March 23-25 in Denver, Colo., Manchester, N.H., Rochester, N.Y., and Grand Rapids, Mich.
SPARTAN NOTEBOOK Tyler Howells played in his 150th career contest Saturday afternoon... With a goal in both games this weekend, Jim McKenzie has now scored in four consecutive contests, accumulating 4-2-6 points in that span. That ties his career high... Justin Abdelkader now has assists in three consecutive games, and 9-7-16 points in 17 games since returning from the World Junior Championships in January... The three-goal first period was the first time MSU has tallied three times in the opening frame since Feb. 2 at Nebraska-Omaha...Bryan Lerg had three goals in three games against Lake Superior State this season...Zak McClellan's first-period assist was his first point since Dec. 29 against Harvard - a span of 13 games played... Prior to Dan Vukovic doing it in Saturday's contest, MSU had not had a defenseman with a two-goal game since Jan. 28, 2006, when Tyler Howells had two in a 5-5 tie with Michigan at Joe Louis Arena...The Spartans are 11-0-0 when Chris Mueller scores... The Spartans are now 79-22 in CCHA Tournament play.