Nov. 27, 2011
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
With a good bounce here or there or a lucky break, Michigan State could have easily won on Saturday against Minnesota.
With a bad bounce here or there or an unlucky break, the Spartans could have easily lost.
But in the end, the two teams exchanged quality scoring chances all night before settling for a wide-open 4-4 overtime tie, capping one of the most exciting and entertaining series played at Munn Arena in several seasons.
"It was definitely one of the most fun hockey games I've ever played in. It was a great atmosphere,'' Spartans junior defenseman and captain Torey Krug said.
One night after upsetting the No. 2/3 Gophers, 4-3, in the nonconference series opener, the No. 20 Spartans almost did it again, building a 3-1 lead. But Minnesota rallied to go up 4-3 in the third period. No big deal for MSU, which quickly rallied to tie it.
In overtime, the Spartans had to kill off the remaining 1 minute and 27 seconds of a power play that started in the third period, survived a flurry of shots in their own zone and then almost won it in the final seconds.
"I can't remember a series that was as much fun to be a part of. The future looms bright for this rivalry,'' said Krug, who almost gave his team a 4-2 lead early in the third period when his shot off his own rebound hit the left post.
The Spartans (8-5-1 overall, 4-4 CCHA) are 2-0-1 in the last three games against the Gophers (11-4-1, 8-2 WCHA). Six of the last 11 contests between the teams have ended in a tie.
"They came out flying and we wanted to show them we were ready,'' Krug said. "They're very skilled team and they will be there (in the NCAAs) in the end. Tonight, it wasn't the result we wanted but it was a promising weekend.''
Both goaltenders - Drew Palmisano of MSU and Minnesota's Kent Patterson - made huge saves to keep their teams from losing.
Palmisano, made 35 saves, five fewer than in the series opener on Friday. Patterson didn't feel as much sustained pressure in his zone but made a some key stops to help his team avoid defeat. He stopped 27 shots.
"We had a blast. . . . a fun time being part of game with a high tempo, lots of energy and it was pretty physical,'' Spartans coach Tom Anastos said. "I hope it was as entertaining for the fans as it was for us.''
It's a safe best to say the 4,287 fans at Munn Arena went home fully entertained and appreciative of the Spartans' energetic style of play. Even after the Gophers scored three straight goals - one on a power play late in the second period and two quick goals early in the second -- to take a 4-3 lead, MSU stayed strong mentally and physically.
The Spartans were resilient and tied it 4-4 on a great individual effort by senior Daultan Leville, who scored on a breakaway 1 minute and 44 seconds after Minnesota took the lead.
"When we tied it up, (Assistant) Coach (Kelly) Miller said, `Let's go boys, let's have some fun with this. Put a smile on your face and let's go,''' Krug said. "That's what hockey is about.
"You're working as hard as you can with 20 of your closest friends and doing with a smile on your face. It was a fun night and I can't wait to do it against Bowing Green next week.''
Anastos continues to be impressed by the Spartans' work ethic, energy and the ability to play hard late in games.
"I was pleased with the scoring chances we created against a really good team and I was pleased with how hard we worked to defend against them,'' he said.
"There were some key points to the game and we responded very well. When you consider that we were up (3-1) and they tied it and pulled ahead, our guys handled things very well. I didn't see any frustration. They believed they could get the job done.''
MSU went up 3-1 in the second period thanks to a first-period tip-in goal by defenseman Brock Shelgren, a second-period backhander by Mike Merrifield and a shot from the left point by defenseman Matt Crandell less than four minutes later.
The Gophers rebounded with a power-play goal late in the second period to cut MSU's lead to 3-2. They tied it early in the third period, converting just two seconds after a power play expired. Three minutes later, Minnesota took the lead for the first time in the series.
"One of the things you notice about Minnesota is their size, strength and speed,'' Krug said. "They have a ridiculous number (17) of NHL draft picks and they're big guys can throw their weight around and skate with the best.
"But when we're go down by a goal, we don't hang our heads. We're still attacking.''
After Leville's tying goal, the Spartans continued to forecheck hard and did a good job of creating dangerous scoring chances. When the Gophers threatened on odd-man rushes or marvelous puck control around the net, Palmisano and the defense made some big plays.
With 34 seconds left, MSU freshman Matt Berry came out from behind the net, avoided a Gopher defenseman and had the goalie down and went to his backhand from the slot. But the puck slide wide of the left post.
"There was no defensive posture. We play to win. We don't play to not lose,'' Krug said. "That's the mentality coach has brought.''
TROPHY STAYS PUT: The Spartans retained possession of the Mariucci/Bessone Trophy with an 8-7 edge in goals in the series. Last season, in the final year of the College Hockey Showcase, MSU defeated the Gophers, 5-2, to win the trophy for the first time since 2000. The trophy was given to the winner of the annual MSU-Minnesota game in the Showcase.
Since the teams played two games this season and will play two more at Minnesota next season, the formula for winning the trophy was changed.
If the Gophers had won on Saturday, the teams would have decided the trophy possession with a shootout.
The Mariucci/Bessone Trophy honors the legendary former coaches of the two schools - John Mariucci of Minnesota and Amo Bessone of MSU.
HUGE GOAL: Senior center Daultan Leveille has scored two goals this season and Saturday's breakaway success was one of the Spartans' most crucial goals in 14 games
Minnesota's Kyle Rau had just given his team a 4-3 lead at 7:10 of the third period, but MSU replied quickly. Leveille, skating just outside the Gopher blue line, took a pass into the middle from Brett Darnell and got a step on two defensemen.
Leveille raced in alone, faked left, then pulled the puck to his backhand and slipped it under the left pad of goalie Kent Patterson, while a defenseman was grabbing him from behind. Leveille led MSU with four shots on goal.
TOP LINE EXCELS: With sophomore right wing Greg Wolfe back in the lineup Saturday, after sitting out Friday's game with a one-game suspension for fighting, Anastos put his top forward line back together - Lee Reimer centering Mike Merrifield and Wolfe.
The unit had a hand in MSU's first two goals and earned five points. Merrifield's perfect pass from the boards near the top of the left circle into the slot was directed in by defenseman Brock Shelgren in the opening period. Wolfe earned the second assist.
Wolfe was the setup guy on the Spartans' second goal. On a 3-on-2 rush, Wolfe got the puck along the right boards and fired it into the slot, toward an onrushing Merrifield, who got the puck on his stick and went to his backhand to beat Patterson for his 8th goal of the season. Reimer earned an assist.
BUSY SHOOTERS: Minnesota had 39 shots on goal and two players combined for 16. Eric Haula had nine shots and Kyle Rau had six. Each had one goal.
SPOILERS: The Spartans ended Minnesota's perfect record on Saturdays. The Gophers came into the game with a 6-0 record on Saturdays and had posted Saturday victories in each of the last four weeks - at Alaska-Anchorage, North Dakota, at Wisconsin, St. Cloud State. Minnesota has lost its last three games on Fridays.