Dec. 4, 2011
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
In most cases, the second game is more difficult than the first game of a two-game series in college hockey.
Michigan State on Saturday was bracing for an improved and more energetic effort from Bowling Green, one day after the Spartans cruised to a 5-1 victory in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association series opener.
The Falcons, a program that is rebuilding and in last place in the conference, were more competitive, and pushed the Spartans for two periods and then some.
But MSU stayed patient, wore down the visitors in the third period and made key plays at just the right times to ignite a 4-1 victory and a series sweep in front of 4,995 fans at Munn Arena.
Coach Tom Anastos said he was worried about this series from the beginning of the week.
"I've been very comfortable and at ease (before each series) until this week. I wasn't concerned about the results as much as our approach,'' he said. "There were a couple of hiccups, but I thought our approach was very businesslike, especially tonight.''
Things didn't come easy for the No. 16 Spartans (10-5-1 overall, 6-4 CCHA), who are 3-0-1 in their last four games and 8-1-1 since Oct. 22, in the series finale against the Falcons (6-10-2, 1-10-1-1).
The teams were tied 1-1 late in the second period when the puck bounced out from behind the net right to a wide-open Dean Chelios. The junior left wing easily fired the puck into an empty net at 15:48. Falcon goalie Andrew Hammond was out of position after tripping over a teammate's stick.
"This was a big win for us. We came into the game talking about it being another chance for us to take a big step in league play and getting three more points,'' MSU junior defenseman and captain Torey Krug said.
"Bowling Green had more jump and was working a lot harder tonight. We had to grind out some battles. They were faster and hit more bodies.
"We noticed it's a tendency of BG to come out flying the second night. They beat Miami in a shootout on a Saturday, and against Notre Dame, they kept the game close.''
Krug credited the coaching staff for keeping the players focused on the series at hand and not having a letdown after last weekend's emotional and rewarding series against Minnesota.
"There were a couple times when our minds were wandering a little in practice. There may have been a sense of complacency,'' he said. "But the coaching staff stayed on us, making sure we came to work every day.
"Come the weekend, we knew our mission. It started by being a must to win the first game.''
Chelios, who also had one assist on Saturday, has five points in the last four games, since returning from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss four games. He had an assist in both games against the Gophers and scored a goal in Friday's series opener with BGSU.
In 11 games, Chelios has four goals and six assist for 10 points.
"My linemates, Leveille and Matt Darnell, are playing well right now and there's a lot of chemistry,'' he said. "And I think my off- and on-ice conditioning while I had my injury got me back in the groove quickly. So, I'm finding some success.''
Anastos was pleased his team kept its focus and battled through some ragged play by both teams and didn't make many costly mistakes.
"Tonight, things were harder to come by, but we did accomplish our mission so we're satisfied with that,'' he said. "Bowling Green competed really hard, were physical and did a good job on their penalty killing. Their goalie made some big saves.''
10 WINS ALREADY: The Spartans, who were 1-3 after the second week of the season, captured their 10th victory on Saturday. It's MSU's quickest run to the 10-win mark since the 2007-2008 team won its 10th on Dec. 1. That team went on to play in the NCAA Tournament and won one game.
Last season, the Spartans won only 15 games. Their 10th win didn't come until Jan. 21, when they upset Miami, 7-4, at Munn Arena.
UP NEXT, MICHIGAN: For sure, Spartan players had to be thinking about their first meeting of the season with Michigan, even a few weeks back. Well now, they can focus on it.
The Spartans and Wolverines (8-8-2, 4-6-2-1) meet in a home-and-home series at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Yost Arena in Ann Arbor and at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at Munn Arena. U-M ended a seven game winless streak (0-6-1) with a 1-0 overtime victory at Alaska.
Asked if he was looking forward to his first games against Michigan as the MSU coach, Anastos said with a smile, "Very."
"I don't know what will be the most special part but it's a meaningful rivalry. It's why you come to a school like this - to play in big rivalry games,'' he said.
"As an athlete, I loved the rivalry. When I coached (as an assistant) here the last time, I loved the rivalry.
"Everybody talks about how the games count the same. Well, they count the same but this means more. And that's not just to the players and coaches, it's to every single fan who follows their team.''