Oct. 29, 2011
By Neil Koepke, MSU Spartans Staff Writer
Michigan State's special teams got quite a workout against Robert Morris on Friday night at Munn Arena. By the time the game ended, the units were physically spent.
The power play took the spotlight in the first 33 minutes of the contest, helping the Spartans build a 3-0 lead, ignited by two second-period power-play goals.
The penalty-killing units were then challenged to close out the victory, starting late in the second period and continuing through the final 20 minutes.
But there were some anxious moments before MSU claimed a 5-2 non-conference victory over the Colonials in front of appreciative 3,763 fans.
The Spartans (3-4 overall, 1-3 CCHA) went 2 for 7 on the power play but gave up two power-play goals on 10 RMU chances. A rash of MSU penalties in the third period gave the visitors seven power plays, although the last one came with seven seconds left.
"That was a real tough game and way too many penalties for our liking,'' Spartans coach Tom Anastos said. "But our guys scrapped very hard and found a way to score and kill lots of those penalties.''
But Robert Morris converted on a power play at 16:15, with Furman South one-timing the puck past MSU goalie Will Yanakeff (23 saves) to cut its deficit to 3-1.
Spartan penalty killers were key factors in keeping the game under control. With Anthony Hayes called for a five-minute major penalty for checking from behind - and game misconduct - late in the second period, MSU had to skate off a three-minute penalty, one minute to close the second session and two to start the third.
A few minutes later, MSU took a 4-1 lead on Wolfe's second goal of the game at 3:04, but the Colonials soon found themselves on a 5-on-3 power play for 1 minute and 22 seconds after MSU's Tanner Sorenson and Lee Reimer were penalized at 4:37 and 5:15, respectively.
The Spartans blocked several shots and survived the Colonials' pressure, but there were more challenges to come.
RMU scored its second power-play goal with 5:59 left in the game to make it 4-2 and had one more power-play chance to get back in the game. But MSU killed it and wrapped up the victory when Mike Merrifield scored into an empty net with 59 seconds to go.
"We gutted it out,'' Spartans senior right wing and alternate captain Trevor Nill said. "It was a tough game to play with all the penalties, but when it was time to buckle down and play hard, the guys stepped up and filled their roles.
"We had a lot of guys blocking shots. It was a good team effort, coming together on the power play and then the penalty kill.''
Anastos said he was disappointed that his team gave up two power-play goals, but praised his penalty killers for their effort and liked the way his power play units worked the puck around against a team that had not allowed a power-play goal in 23 chances over five games.
"It takes a huge effort, especially the way we kill penalties because we don't just sit back and wait,'' he said. "There were a few injuries and the same guys were asked to go on ice (again and again) and kill penalties. They sucked it up and did it.
"We came up with some goals on our power play and moved the puck around pretty well and had lots of chances.''
DANGEROUS LINE: The Spartans got an excellent game from the line of center Lee Reimer, right wing Greg Wolfe and left wing Dean Chelios. The trio accounted for three goals, four assists, seven points and nine shots on goal.
Wolfe had his first career two-goal game and picked up an assist on Chelios' first-period goal that opened the scoring. Reimer had two assists and Chelios one.
Chelios appeared to suffer an upper body injury in the third period and his status for tonight's series finale is questionable.
"Our philosophy is to work their defense down low as hard we can and attack the net off the cycle,'' said Wolfe, who now has three goals and two assists for five points in seven games. "We battled hard and all three of us were working together, grinding the puck out of the corners and to the net.
"It feels good and hopefully there's more to come,'' Wolfe said his two-goal effort. "Any time a line is producing and the team is producing, I'm happy.''
For sure, Anastos was pleased with the unit's play.
"They've been playing pretty well. I was happy that they had a breakout game,'' he said. "They started the season doing well, but then went through a few games without getting the production they'd hoped for.
"Tonight, they passed the puck well. Reimer was really good, Wolfe showed good patience and Dean Chelios played well.''
UNSUNG HEROES: The Spartans lost freshman center Justin Hoomaian to an injury in the first period, Hayes, also a center, was ejected in the second period for a check from behind and Chelios left the game in the third period. So Anastos had to mix and match his forward lines.
"I think that showed the versatility of our team,'' Nill said.
Several forwards and defensemen played key roles by blocking shots during Robert Morris' steady diet of power plays starting midway through the second period.
Anastos said Forfar had an outstanding game, even without getting a point.
"Forfar was really strong. He played in a lot of situations -- power play, penalty killing and four on four. He backchecked, forechecked and played physical. He played center, on the wing, and took faceoffs. He was a real force.
"Brent Perlini had a good game, Merrifield played some at center. We had to move guys around and do whatever it took and they did it.''
HONORARY COACH: MSU baseball coach Jake Boss Jr. spent Friday as the Spartans honorary coach. He attended the pre-game meetings and was involved in all the coaches' discussions and took in the whole scene from behind the bench.
Boss Jr., who grew up in Lansing and graduated from Everett High School, led the baseball Spartans to the Big Ten championship last season.
"I think Jake was the one who made the call on the power plays where we ended up scoring,'' Anastos laughed. "We gave him the game puck. I told him he had to wear his championship ring.''
Boss Jr. admitted he doesn't know a lot about hockey but enjoyed his full day of being around the program.
"I learned an awful lot tonight,'' he said. "They played pretty hard and it was pretty impressive. They played for each other, with a lot of encouragement going on on the bench.''
Boss Jr. missed most of Friday's Game 7 of the World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and Texas Rangers, but said he was rooting for the Cardinals. A couple hours after the hockey game, Boss Jr. had to be happy as the Cardinals won the series with a 6-2 victory in St. Louis.
Summing up the evening, Anatos said: "I liked how hard we played, I liked the tempo and that we scored five goals. It was nice to see pucks go into the net. And I liked the new addition to the coaching staff.''
SWEEP IS THE GOAL: Both Wolfe and Nill said the Spartans have to cut down on penalties and continue to play with lots of energy to be in a position to earn their series sweepof the season in tonight's finale against Robert Morris.
Anastos said his team shouldn't think about the sweep as much as focusing on the little details which, when done successfully, usually add up to a victory.
"We have to get ready with the right mental frame of mind and coming in and win one shift at a time. We have to focus on the process. I know that sounds like coach-speak but it's real,'' Anastos said.
"You have to try to win each shift. And if you focus on the small bits, by the end of the game, the result is usually a good one.
"It'll be tough. We exerted a lot of energy and we have some guys banged up.''