Nov. 26, 2011
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
Drew Palmisano had not stopped a shot in a regular season hockey game in four weeks.
It wasn't that the Michigan State senior goaltender was out of sync and not playing well in practice. It was more because sophomore Will Yanakeff went on a tremendous run and played four consecutive games in goal for the Spartans.
On Friday, Palmisano got his first start since Oct. 29 and showed no signs of rust or a lack of confidence.
Facing highly touted Minnesota, ranked No. 2 and 3 in college hockey's two major polls, Palmisano responded with arguably his best game of his Spartan career, leading No. 20 MSU to a 4-3 victory over the Gophers in front of 5,270 fans at Munn Arena.
Palmisano, a 5-10, 160-pounder from Ann Arbor, made 40 saves, including an acrobatic and clutch glove save with 45.1 seconds left on Minnesota freshman left wing Kyle Rau to keep the visitors from sending the game into overtime.
"They were crashing the net and had a bad angle shot (by Erik Haula) and I tried to pick it clean off the ice but (it hit my pad and) the rebound slid out (front). Brock Shelgren did a great job tying up the first guy coming in,'' Palmisano said.
"The second guy was right there and I just put up my glove and it went in (the glove).''
MSU survived the final 45.1 seconds and claimed victory in the nonconference series opener. The Spartans (8-5 overall, 4-4 CCHA), who have won six of their last seven games, will try for their third sweep of the season when they face Minnesota (11-4, 8-2 WCHA) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Munn Arena.
Palmisano's last start was in a 5-2 win over Robert Morris four weeks ago. Yanakeff played the last four games - two wins at Western Michigan and a victory and loss at Northern Michigan last week.
"It's hard to not play for so long but you just have to stick with it. And keep confidence in yourself and know that people around you support you,'' Palmisano said. "You never know when you'll be called on.''
MSU coach Tom Anastos was impressed with the way Palmisano handled the challenge of getting back in the net and playing at a high level.
"I really wanted to see him help us win a game and he did that tonight,'' Anasto said. "It looked like he was seeing the puck well. You could see his confidence. He wasn't sitting back in the net.
"We've got some good competition going (with our goaltenders) and that's healthy.''
Palmisano, now 3-3 with a 2.85 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage, said he had a good feeling about his game in warmups.
"I was seeing the puck well. I felt that the shooters would have to make good shots to beat me,'' he said. "I'd certainly say that it was of my top games here. And it doesn't hurt when your team scores four goals.
"Kevin Walrod's shorthanded goal (in the third period) was unbelievable.''
Walrod made a dazzling play on a 1-on-1 rush against a Gophers defenseman and fired the puck past goalie Kent Patterson and into the right corner at 3:08 to break a 2-2 deadlock and give MSU the lead for good. It was Walrod's second goal of the game.
After MSU freshman Matt Berry boosted MSU's lead to 4-2 at 5:02, Minnesota got back into the game on standout sophomore Nick Bjugstad's second goal of the night with 6:58 left in the final period.
"They're a good team, they're on a roll,'' Bjugstad said of the Spartans. "They have a good defense and offense and a good tender. There were a lot of things we did wrong. It's tough to come back from behind down (by two goals). You can't wait until the last minute.
"We almost (tied it) when Rau hit the pipe and then their goalie made an unbelievable save on him.''
Palmisano and the Spartans have now won two straight against the Gophers. Last season in Minnesota in the final College Hockey Showcase weekend, MSU stunned the Gophers, 5-2. Palmisano made 29 saves.
Two years ago, Minnesota edged the Spartans, 2-1, with Palmisano in goal at Munn Arena.
GOALS IN BUNCHES: When MSU's Kevin Walrod scores a goal, there's a good chance he'll get another before the game is over.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound junior left wing from Westside, British Columbia, had his third two-goal game of his college career and second this season on Friday.
Walrod has five goals this season and eight in his career. In two games, he's had one goal.
"The games that I've scored in bunches, I've scored early and that gave me confidence and you drive to get another,'' he said. "My line (with center Brent Perlini and right wing Matt Berry) played well tonight.''
Walrod scored the game's first goal on a power play from close in at 8:12 of the first period with Perlini assisting. He broke a 2-2 tie with a shorthanded goal early in the third period.
"I got a lucky bounce off the glass and in a race for the puck, I noticed that their defenseman had been out there for a while and seemed like he was a little tired,'' Walrod said. "I made a move at the blue line and caught him off guard and took a shot that fooled the goalie a bit and went in.''
Walrod scored two goals in a 5-2 home loss against Ohio State on Oct. 21 and had one goal in a 3-2 victory at Western Michigan on Nov. 11.
BIGGEST VICTORY: The Spartans have defeated some pretty good this season - Ohio State and Western Michigan - but Friday's win against Minnesota has to be the most satisfying.
The Gophers, who were ranked No. 1 for two consecutive weeks before splitting with St. Cloud State last weekend, are loaded with talent. Minnesota boasts 17 NHL draft picks and plays an aggressive, highly entertaining style.
And the Gophers are doing it with mainly sophomores and freshmen and only four seniors.
Minnesota's top line of sophomores Nick Bjugstad (15 goals, 8 assists, 23 points) and Zach Budish (3-10-13) and freshman Kyle Rau (9-8-17) is one of best in the nation. The trio was dangerous on almost every shift on Friday.
"They're really talented. They have lots of skill and really are a fun team to watch - probably more fun, that is, when they're playing another team,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "They attack, they're aggressive, they possess the puck and make good decisions. They're a team that plays the game the right way.''
The only glitch in the Gophers season is slow starts the first games of series in each of the last three weeks. They've lost three straight series openers, but in each of the last two weekends, they've rebounded with dominant performances to earn a split.
After losing 3-1 at Wisconsin two weeks ago, Minnesota won the series finale, 4-1. Last week, the Gophers lost at St. Cloud State, 4-3, but were in total control in the second game, winning 5-0 in Minneapolis.
"I don't think we did a good job in front of our net and we didn't do a good job getting traffic in front of their net,'' Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. "We made some mistakes on their power-play goal and on the shorthanded goal and lacked intensity off the faceoff on their second goal. You can't do that, especially on the road.''
Anastos liked the way his team responded to losing a two-goal lead late in the first period and the way it competed in the third.
"I thought we had a really good third period. They did take advantage of a turnover and the puck ended up on the wrong guy's stick (Bjugstad), but I was happy with our effort,'' Anastos said.
"Our guys believed that we could win the game and I think our conditioning continues to be a strength. The guys can compete hard for a full 60 minutes.''
MSU faced the Gophers without standout junior defenseman and captain Torey Krug and sophomore right wing Greg Wolfe, the team's second-leading scorer (4-8-12). Both sat out with one-game suspensions as the result of game disqualification penalties assessed last Saturday at NMU.
Anastos said he tried to use the absence of Krug and Wolfe as an opportunity for other players to make more of an impact.
"When we had our meeting on Monday, we presented it that with adversity comes opportunity and you saw some guys step up,'' Anastos said. "(Freshmen) Brett Darnell and Matt Berry scored big goals. Walrod scored two and Palmisano played great.
"Our defensemen played a lot more minutes than they usually do. Jake Chelios played a great game. Others did their part and were steady.
"We played a lot in our own zone and that wears on you over the course of the game. But if you're in your zone and not giving up many quality chances, it's really not a big deal. I don't remember too many times when we were running around out of position.''
Not only were the Gophers the best the Spartans have faced but Bjugstad could be the top forward MSU has come across. He ranks high on the list with Boston College junior forward Chris Kreider, both likely Hobey Baker candidates.
With two goals on Friday, Bjugstad has 15 goals and eight assists for 23 points and is tied with Notre Dame sophomore T.J. Tynan (5-18-23) for the national scoring lead. At 6-5, 211 pounds, Bjugstad is one of the biggest players in college hockey, while the 5-7, 156-pound Tynan is one of the smallest.
Bjugstad, from Blaine, Minn., has seven goals in his last four games and five in the last two. He was selected by the Florida Panthers in the first round (19th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.
"You saw the release on that shot (on our third goal). The puck was in the back of the net before the goalie could move,'' Lucia said. "He's that big and strong. He's a very special player.''
FIRST FOR DARNELL: Spartan freshman right wing Brent Darnell scored his first collegiate goal to give his team a 2-0 lead at 12:25 of the first period. After Daultan Leveille won a faceoff in the right circle in the Gopher zone, Dean Chelios had two shots on goal from close in. Both were stopped by goalie Kent Patterson, but Darnell drove to the net and scored on a backhander. The rookie from Canton now has two points.
Fellow freshman Matt Berry, also from Canton, got his third goal of the season early in the third period and it turned out to be the game winner.