Dec. 30, 2006
Detroit, Mich. - Bryan Lerg earned MVP honors with his three-point outing while sophomore Tim Crowder broke out of his scoring drought with a pair of tallies to propel the MSU hockey team to a 4-1 victory in the finals of the 42nd annual Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit. Michigan State wins its second title in three seasons under Rick Comley, and captures its 11th title overall. Jeff Lerg made 21 saves in the victory.
The Spartans began the game with an exciting early flurry with great scoring chances low. Bryan Lerg's backhand attempt was just wide, then Michigan netminder Billy Sauer came up big with a right leg-pad save on Jim McKenzie just seconds after the junior had rung one off the crossbar. Michigan State had a 9-1 shot advantage at the midpoint of that opening frame, then found itself on the power play when Steve Kampfer was whistled for interference at 10:21.
It took just over 30 seconds for the Spartans to capitalize - Tim Kennedy backhanded a drop pass to Bryan Lerg at the half wall, and Lerg charged onto the right dot and rifled the pass across the slot to a waiting Tim Crowder, who one-timed a rocket over the stick-hand of Sauer for his sixth goal of the season, and first in nine games. MSU kept the offense coming in waves - freshman blueliner Mike Ratchuk had a pair of impressive rushes, but Sauer came up big on the second - and held a 12-8 edge in shots at the end of the period.
The Wolverines gained the equalizer 5:11 into the period when skating on the power play. Winger Travis Turnbull had the puck in the left circle, and was looking for Brandon Naurato on the far post, but the puck went off the leg of Brandon Gentile in front of Lerg, and eluded the goalie as it went across the line for an own goal.
The teams traded opportunities when the Spartans were skating on a power play early in the second period, but Sauer made an impressive right-pad save on a Chris Mueller offering shortly before Jeff Lerg turned away Turnbull's shorthanded two-on-one offering to keep the game deadlocked.
Crowder put the Spartans back with a lead with his second of the night at 13:20 while skating with a five-on-three advantage. Jeff Dunne initiated the play at the right point, moving the puck to Bryan Lerg, who duplicated his cross-slot to Crowder from the opening frame and watched the sophomore once again beat Sauer stick-side.
Bryan Lerg's shorthanded tally with 3:13 let in the period pushed Michigan State's lead to 3-1. Lerg challenged blueliner Matt Hunwick at the right point and poked the puck free of the zone, and broke in on Sauer uncontested. Lerg faked forehand, then pushed a soft backhander past the netminder's glove hand for his third point of the evening and team-leading 12th score of the season.
Mike Ratchuk's power play tally at 7:14 of the final frame pushed the Spartan advantage to an unsurmountable 4-1. Tyler Howells' pass for Nick Sucharski in the high slot was bobbled a bit by the sophomore winger, but he managed to backhand a pass to Ratchuk, who's slapshot made it through traffic in front and past Sauer stick-side.
An Ethan Graham penalty in the final minute and a half gave the Wolverines a chance to draw closer, but the MSU penalty kill kept the potent Michigan offense at bay and held on for the 4-1 victory. Lerg's 21 saves was a stark contrast to his career-best 45 the previous evening against Harvard, and Sauer had 31 stops in the loss.
Michigan State takes the holiday week to focus on a return to conference play, and will travel to Oxford, Ohio next weekend to take on league-leading Miami.
Notes: MSU now owns 11 GLI titles, and sees its name attached to both collegiate banners in Joe Louis Arena. Both the CCHA Tournament champion and GLI champion have their name attached to banners hanging from the JLA rafters ... The Spartans own five straight GLI championship game victories over their archrival, and evened the all-time GLI series record at 7-7-1. Both teams have five championship game victories in the series ... The teams have now split their four games this season, with U-M winning both at Yost. The teams will meet again on Feb. 10 at Joe Louis Arena for their final regular-season meeting ... MSU now owns an edge in neutral-site games between the teams, 19-18-4 ... MSU is 9-1-1 when scoring first and 9-0-1 when holding a second intermission advantage ... The victory is the 699th of Rick Comley's collegiate coaching career and his 102nd at Michigan State ... The all-tournament team consisted of Bryan Lerg, Crowder, and Harvard's Mike Taylor at forward; blueliners Matt Hunwick (Michigan) and Ratchuk, and Jeff Lerg ... Michigan State ended the night with three power-play goals in six chances, and have had multiple power play goals in their last three games. Over that span, the Spartans are 8-for-16 ... Tim Crowder snapped a nine-game pointless streak with his first period tally. He added a second tally in the middle frame for his fifth multiple-point night of the season. He now has five career scores against the Wolverines ... Bryan Lerg's shorthanded tally was the second of his career. He extended his point-scoring streak to six games, the team's longest of the season. He had six points (three goals, three assists) in the tournament ...