March 25, 2007
East Lansing, Mich. - Michigan State got goals from Chris Mueller and Tim Kennedy and a spectacular effort from sophomore Jeff Lerg (19 saves) to earn a hard-fought 2-1 victory over top-ranked Notre Dame on Saturday evening in the NCAA Midwest Regional in Grand Rapids. By virtue of the win, the Spartans advance to the Frozen Four for the 11th time overall and first time since 2001.
Michigan State, which improved to 24-13-3 with the win, will play Maine in the national semifinals on Thursday, April 5 in St. Louis at the Scottrade Center. The NCAA Championship game will be played on Saturday, April 7.
The Spartans expected a deliberate, disciplined game with the top-ranked team in the country, and delivered an impressive effort of their own. Winners by a 5-1 margin on Friday against Boston University, Michigan State remained patient and got a pair of power play tallies from its suddenly-hot man-advantage unit to post the victory. Add in the play of Jeff Lerg, who allowed just two goals en route to Midwest Regional MVP honors, has lowered his career NCAA Tournament goals against average to 1.50 to go with .949 save percentage.
"It was a great hockey game, and I have to commend Notre Dame for a great season," noted head coach Rick Comley. "They kept coming at us, and were very tough. But as we have done all year, we were very resilient. We're very excited to advance - I'm very, very proud of this hockey team."
The Irish's best early chance came at the 9:47 mark, when Ryan Thang stripped a Spartan defender of the puck in the right corner and fed Kevin Deeth, who was wide open and alone in the slot. Deeth went low, stick-side on Jeff Lerg, but the sophomore netminder came up with the big save a foot off the goal line to keep the game scoreless. Michigan State had an equally good chance less than a minute later, as Tim Kennedy threaded a pass to Tim Crowder, who's backhand offering was stopped by the blocker hand of Hobey Candidate David Brown. The Irish held a slim 8-7 shot advantage in the frame, but the teams went into the dressing room in a scoreless deadlock.
The Spartans appeared to break through at 4:34, as Jim McKenzie flipped a backhander past Brown on a nice pass from Kennedy; the goal was waved off, however, as the replay showed a Spartan in the crease.
Notre Dame took a penalty on the next shift, and the Spartans kept pressing, which put the game's first tally on the board at 6:04. Chris Snavely fired a rocket from the left point, which was saved by Brown - but the rebound came out right onto the stick of Chris Mueller on the left side. Mueller quickly redirected it over the stick hand of Brown for his 14th goal of the season - and the all-important first goal of the game.
The Spartans doubled their lead with another power play tally at 5:59 of the final frame, when Kennedy wheeled out from behind the net to the left of Brown, and tucked the puck past the goalie for his second goal of the weekend.
The top seed would not go quietly, and broke up the shutout at 14:52. A Brett Blatchford slapshot from the left point was deflected by winger Evan Rankin at the right post over the glove hand of Jeff Lerg to pull the Irish to within a goal. Despite a penalty against the Spartans and Brown pulled in favor of an extra skater, Jeff Lerg and the Spartan defense was up to the task, and held on for the one-goal victory. Lerg made 19 saves in the victory, while Brown made 23 in the losing effort.
Notes: Tim Kennedy, Chris Mueller, and Tyler Howells were named to the All-Tournament Team, while Jeff Lerg earned Regional MVP honors ... Michigan State has qualified for its 11th all-time Frozen Four appearance, and first since 2001 ... The Spartans will play Maine, which ended its 2006 season in the East Regional final ... Michigan State defeated two Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalists - BU's John Curry and Notre Dame's David Brown - to advance in the tournament ... The disallowed Jim McKenzie goal was the fourth that MSU has had waved off in its last four games ... The Spartans scored twice on Notre Dame's top-ranked penalty kill, which entered the game with a 91.1 success rate. It was just the third time this season that the Irish allowed more than one power play goal in a game ... Mueller has five goals and four assists in his last eight games ... The Spartans have scored eight power-play goals in their six postseason games ... Tim Kennedy has tied his career-best five game point scoring streak (3-4-7) ... Kennedy's game-winner was his fourth of the season, which ranks second on the team behind Bryan Lerg's national-best eight ... The ECAC officiating crew of Peter Feola, Robert St. Lawrence, and Marty Demers called the game ...