Oct. 19, 2012
East Lansing, Mich. - Down 2-0 after two periods, Michigan State coach Tom Anastos told his team that it would get the first goal of the third period and go on to defeat Niagara on Friday night at Munn Arena.
The Spartans listened, got energized and then went out and made it happen.
MSU struck for three goals in a span of 5 minutes and 49 seconds in an exciting, fast-paced third period and held on for a 3-2 nonconference victory in the Spartans' home opener in front of 4,063 fans.
"Everyone came into the locker room (after the second period) kind of upset with how were doing, but coach came in and said `we're going to come back,' and we came out fired up,'' said sophomore right wing Tanner Sorenson, who set up defenseman Jake Chelios for MSU's first goal (8:28) and center Lee Reimer for the tying goal (11:25).
"In the first two periods, we weren't finishing checks and we were swiping and skating by the puck. It was nice to see us play with some fire and finish checks in the third period. Jake had a real nice shot to get us going. You could feel the bench come alive after the goal.''
Chelios cut Niagara's lead to 2-1 with a bullet-like shot from just outside the left circle that caught the top right corner at 8:28, shortly after MSU had failed to convert on a 5-on-3 power play.
Less than three minutes later, Reimer tapped in a loose puck in the crease after Purple Eagles goalie Carsen Chubek made the initial save on a shot by Sorenson. Thanks to more Niagara penalties - the visitors took six in the final period - the Spartans went on another 5-on-3 power play at 13:04 and they capitalized on a perfectly executed passing play to take a 3-2 lead.
Chelios slid the puck to freshman center Matt DeBlouw at the right point and skated down low into the slot. DeBlouw then fed junior right wing Greg Wolfe at the top of the left circle for a one-timer. Wolfe's slap shot deflected off the stick of sophomore right wing Matt Berry at the left edge of the crease and into the top left corner at 14:17.
"We had a play set up where DeBlouw sends it over to Wolfe and he takes a nice slap shot along the ice, and I was standing off to the side and stuck out my stick and it ended up going upstairs,'' Berry said.
"It was great we could be two goals down, battle back and get a big `W' for the team.''
The Spartans (1-2 overall) outshot the Purple Eagles (1-2-1), a member of Atlantic Hockey, 20-4 in the third period and 36-24 overall. MSU was 1-for-6 on the power play while Niagara failed to convert on five power plays.
MSU goalie Will Yanakeff made 22 saves, and the only two Niagara goals were kind of flukes - both credited to center Jeff Hannan in the first and second periods.
The second goal - with 2:03 left in the second period - went in off the stick of MSU freshman defenseman Travis Walsh, who was trying to clear the puck in front and accidentally tapped it into his own net.
"It seemed like we were working hard to get the puck to the net in the first two periods but it coming off our sticks a little weird and we didn't get enough traffic around the net,'' Wolfe said. "Everyone was still confident that we'd come back.
"Coach told us that we weren't losing the game. He said we're going to come out and get the first goal, then the next two and we'll win the game. We started moving our feet in the offensive zone and put ourselves in position where they were going to have to take penalties.''
Once the Spartans got the lead, they played with poise and were solid defensively the rest of the way to claim their first victory of the season.
"We knew we were going to have to scratch and claw for everything we got and that was the case tonight,'' Anastos said. "I expect the same thing on Saturday.''
MSU and Niagara meet in the second game of the series at 7 p.m. at Munn Arena.
"Getting that first goal, we needed that reward to give us a lift and to keep us going,'' Anastos said. "Jake's goal goes in and you could feel the sense of relief, and you say `OK, let's go get the next one.'"
The Spartans not only got the next goal but added one more to make for a rewarding home opener.
"I was happy how we competed down the stretch and at the end. We were good in our own zone and in the neutral zone,'' Anastos said of the final three minutes, with Niagara pushing to tie it.
"What I liked more than anything is I thought we competed really hard for the whole game. That's first thing that's important. I don't care what you do strategically, if you don't compete at a high level, you're going to struggle.
" With our team and our inexperience, we don't give ourselves a chance if we don't compete hard did. We did that.''