Nov. 12, 2011
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
In the first period, Michigan State goaltender Will Yanakeff played very well.
In the second, he was even better.
The third period? He was outstanding in stopping 14 shots to complete a solid 40-save effort in leading the Spartans to a 3-2 Central Collegiate Hockey Association victory over No. 5/6 Western Michigan in the usual loud and chaotic atmosphere at Lawson Arena.
Yanakeff's focus and poise and three skilled and opportunistic goals were just enough as MSU held off the Broncos in the third period to claim its third victory in a row and fourth in its last five games in front of a raucous crowd of 4,052.
WMU outshot Michigan State, 40-16, and directed 71 shots at the Spartan net to 26 for the Spartans.
"With three minutes to go, I was saying to myself, `let's get this game over. I was really tired,'' said Yanakeff, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound sophomore from Jerome, which is south of Jackson.
"I knew they were coming in the third period and they definitely brought it. I thought I was focused and worked hard, as everyone on our team did. We weathered the storm at the end.''
The Spartans (5-4 overall, 2-3-0 CCHA), over the .500 mark for the first time this season, will try for their second straight sweep when they face the Broncos (6-2-3, 4-2-1-1) in the series finale at 7 p.m. Saturday at Lawson Arena.
"Will was great. He had good presence in the net, made a lot of big saves and played with poise, even under lots of pressure,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "He showed how capable he is of being a big-time performer. We knew he was capable of that and he demonstrated it tonight.''
Yanakeff made 13 saves in the opening period, 11 in the second and stopped 14 shots in the third. The Spartans, who never trailed, basically made their shots count -- three goals on 16 shots.
Both of Western Michigan's goals came on point shots by defensemen
Matt Tennyson's shot from the left point deflected off a Spartan and eluded Yanakeff at 14:27 of the second period, just six seconds before their WMU's power play expired.
MSU senior Mike Merrifield scored the game-winner on a breakaway with 2:50 left in the third period as he beat WMU goalie Nick Pisellini with a backhander.
But the Broncos got the momentum back when Dennis Brown scored from the right point 65 seconds into the third period to cut the Spartan lead to 3-2.
"They're dangerous from all over the ice,'' Yanakeff said. "They have a lot of small, skilled forwards who can work the puck down low, and they took a lot of shots from the point. But our guys did a great job getting in front of pucks and blocking shots.''
Yanakeff and defenseman Torey Krug did a great job of foiling an excellent MU scoring bid with 8:37 left, during a wild scramble in the crease. Yanakeff made the initial save, tried to smother the puck but it squirted loose, with Referee Keith Sergott leaning on the right post to get a closer look.
"I have to thank Torey for that. He knocked the puck off the goal line, I think two times,'' Yanakeff said. "I had no idea where the puck was.
"I saw Torey behind me and he was yelling `you're good, you're good . . . don't move.' That's when I knew it would be all right.''
Krug tapped the puck under the sprawled Yanakeff. Still, the officials went to video to replay to determine if the puck crossed the goal line. After a quick look, they ruled no goal.
The Spartans breathed a sigh of relief and continued to defend and hold off the hard-charging Broncos.
Yanakeff, whose 6-5-1 record last season included two road victories and both by shutouts, had never played at WMU.
"I think I was more excited than anything, playing in this building and in front of the Lawson Lunatics,'' he said of the enthusiastic and colorful student section.
"It's so loud and even though they're chanting against us, it's fun to play here.''
In the end, lots of fun for Yanakeff, but not for the frustrated Broncos.
TEAM EFFORT: Even though the Spartans were outplayed, they still found a way to steal their first road win of the season with a gritty, workman-like effort. Once again, Anastos liked his team's compete level.
"Our team continues to compete hard all the time,'' he said. "I was happy with the way we started, given the week off and the Branden Carney situation. I was curious how we would respond in the beginning and we did very well.
"I also thought in other key parts of the game, when we hemmed them into our own zone, we still maintained our poise,'' Anastos said with a laugh. "We worked hard. We were pleased with that effort.''
The Spartans blocked 16 shots, including six in the first period and six in the third. Defenseman Brock Shelgren was credited with a team-high seven blocked shots. Defenseman Matt Crandell had two and seven other players had one each.
"Western possessed the puck really well and were very patient. Out at the points, they were patient in trying to find good shots,'' Anastos said.
"We tried to block as many as we could but in a couple of cases, they just got through. We told our guys that you have to make the commitment and sacrifice to make sure it's difficult for them to get good shots.
"You have to get in the way and sometimes pay the price for it.''
Anastos had praise for several players who did the little things to contribute to the victory, and he was impressed with his team's composure while under duress for most of the final period.
"The bench was very composed and players were that way on the ice. I didn't feel any tension or pressure. The guys just played one shift at a time. I liked the maturity that we showed,'' he said.
"Merrifield scored a goal but he's doing a lot of little things that not everyone notices. Whether it's killing penalties or blocking shots, it's lots of good things.''
Merrifield has scored in each of his last three games. He has four goals and three assists for seven points in the last three contests.
KEY CCHA TILTS: Miami, which started the season 0-4 in league play, won its third in a row with a 2-1 win over No. 4/5 Michigan in Oxford, Ohio.
Alaska took a 2-0 lead early in the first period against No. 7 Notre Dame in South Bend, then watched the Irish scored three unanswered goals. But the Nanooks rebounded to take a 4-3 before the first period ended.
Notre Dame tied it 4-4 in the second period and pulled out a 5-4 victory on defenseman Stephen Johns' power-play goal with 48 seconds left. Alaska is 0-5-0 in CCHA play, while the Irish are 4-1-2-0, one point behind FSU and LSSU.
SPARTANS FLAVOR IN DETROIT: Five former Michigan State players were in the lineup on Friday in the Red Wings' 3-0 victory over the Edmonton Oilers at Joe Louis Arena.
Miller scored Detroit's first goal in the first period, while Abdelkader had an assist and got into a fight early in the second period. Miller was selected as the No. 2 star while Abdelkader was No. 3.
Horcoff, the Oilers' captain, played 18 minutes and 44 seconds and had one shot on goal. Petry played 18:44 with one shot, while Potter got 17:14 of ice time with two shots on goal.