Neil’s Notebook: Spartans Come Up Short in GLI Semifinal Loss
Notes, quotes and analysis from Neil Koepke.
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
DETROIT – Two short stretches – one early in the second period and one late in the third – summed up a frustrating afternoon for Michigan State in the Great Lakes Invitational.
A bad bounce and two bad goals by Michigan Tech within a span of 3 minutes and 22 seconds saw a 1-0 Spartan lead turn into a 3-1 deficit.
Then with MSU trailing 3-2 late in the third period, the Spartans got a couple breaks to go their way, but they needed one more and didn’t get it. The result was a 5-2 loss to the Huskies in the first GLI semifinal on Monday at Little Caesars Arena.
Michigan State had a great opportunity to tie it, 3-3, when it went on power play at 12:43 of the final period. But 28 seconds later, a slash from behind by the Spartans’ Patrick Khodorenko on a breakaway by Tech’s Dylan Steman resulted in a penalty shot being awarded.
MSU goalie John Lethemon made a clutch save on Steman’s backhander and the Spartans, still in in the game, resumed their power play.
A few seconds later, the play of the game went the Huskies’ way as Spartans defenseman Carson Gatt, with the puck near the blue line in the middle of the ice, spotted an open Taro Hirose to the left of Tech freshman goalie Robbie Beydoun.
Gatt fired the puck toward Hirose, who reached out and deflected the puck toward an opening between the left post and Beydoun.
Beydoun moved to his right, made a turning-point save, and Michigan Tech added two more goals, the last one into an empty net, to earn a spot in Tuesday’s 6 p.m. GLI title game against Bowling Green. The Falcons skated past Michigan, 6-4, in Monday’s second semifinal.
The Spartans (8-10-1 overall, 2-7-1-1 Big Ten) will face Michigan (7-8-2, 3-5-2-1) in the third-place game for the second straight season at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“We were in that game,’’ said Gatt, a Spartan a senior, playing in his final GLI. “An empty netter and a tough (goal against) just before that, especially after a power play where we had some good chances . . . So, that’s a bummer.
“I was hoping to bring a championship back to East Lansing, and start the groundwork for the ones to come. We can’t win a championship now, but at the same time, third place is a lot better than fourth place.’’
After Lethemon stopped Steman, Gatt and Hirose came within a whisker of lifting their team into a deadlock, setting up a tense rest of the third period, maybe an overtime win or a shootout victory berth in the final.
But that positive script never got written. For sure, a bummer for the Spartans.
“Taro was at the side of the net, and they do a pretty good job of blocking shots and I saw his stick. It was a good tip by him but their goalie made a good save,’’ Gatt said. “We were down 3-2 and on a power play and had some pretty good chances to tie it up. We battled back. There was no quit after going down 3-1.’’
The Spartans took a 1-0 lead into the second period on defenseman Zach Osburn’s power-play goal with 44 seconds left in the first period. It was his first goal of the season. Osburn’s long shot from the right point, just inside the blue line, deflecting off of sprawled Tech goalie Beydoun.
But the Huskies started the second period with a flourish. Their three-goal surge started at 2:04 when Brent Baltus’ pass from the left circle into the slot went off the skate of Alex Smith and deflected into the right corner of the net to tie it 1-1.
Just 1 minute and 15 seconds later, Jake Lucchini’s shot from the left circle beat Lethemon to give Tech a 2-1 lead.
A defensive gaffe by MSU led to the Huskies’ third goal at 5:26. Lucchini’s pass from deep in the left circle found Alex Gillies alone in front of Lethemon, with MSU defenders away from the slot. Gillies got the puck and lifted a backhander past Lethemon for a 3-1 edge.
“We got away from our game there for a bit,’’ Gatt said. “(It started) with the weird bounce off their guy’s skate, then another shot goes in and then we broke down defensively. That stuff is going to happen. But we came back, we didn’t quit.’’
Later in the second period, Khodorenko missed a couple of great chances from close in, but he scored a huge goal with 1:27 left to cut MSU’s deficit to 3-2. The sophomore center scored from a wide angle in the right circle, catching the top left corner for his seventh goal of the season.
“On the power play, we had some good chances. I had backdoor chances and their goalie made some good saves,’’ Khodorenko said. “We had a lot of offensive zone time but couldn’t find the back of the net. I thought we played pretty well offensively.’’
But not so well defensively.
Late in the third period, the Spartans turned the puck over in front of their own net and it turned into an easy goal by Gavin Gould for a 4-2 lead with 4:54 to go. Jake Jackson scored unassisted into an empty net with 21 seconds left to close out the scoring.
Michigan Tech held a 32-31 edge in shots. Beydoun stopped 29 shots, including 12 in the second period and 13 in the third. MSU was 1-for-3 on the power play, while Tech was 0-for-2.
“Michigan Tech played a good game, they played hard,’’ MSU coach Danton Cole said. “It was a 3-2 game and our guys were battling (in the third period), but unfortunately they got the next goal. We played all right but we need to be better tomorrow.
“That’s kind of the way we’ve been work through it all year. We’re trying to get better, pushing it and player harder between whistles.’’
For much of the game, Michigan Tech had success working its way to the front of the net, creating lots of scoring opportunities and forcing Lethemon to come up several quality saves, or just missing on some rebounds.
“There were a couple times where we got on the wrong side (of the puck),’’ Cole said. “The hardness and the urgency with how we played wasn’t good. There were times when we had one guy working and four guys not so much. You have to have five guys going.
“They have to be up and back, especially in the defensive zone when you close. Your backside reads are a lot easier when that happens.
“When guys aren’t going and not going together, then it’s kind of hard, and that’s when those breakdowns come down.’’
NOT BAD, NOT GREAT: Take away a shot or two and sophomore goalie John Lethemon would have been credited with an excellent game. Lethemon perhaps wasn’t as sharp as he’s played most of this season but he was very good in the third period, keeping his team within a goal and a chance to tie the game and possibly win it.
The shot he’d like have back was on the Huskies’ second goal during their stretch of three goals in 3 minutes and 22 seconds early in the second period. Jake Lucchini’s shot from the left circle beat Lethemon to the right corner – Lethemon’s left – at 3:19 to give Tech a 2-1 lead. It was the type of shot Lethemon usually stops.
On the other three goals, not including the empty-netter, Lethemon had little chance on as his defense let him down on Tech’s third and fourth goals.
“John was fine. He was kind of like the rest of (the team),’’ Cole said. “For the most part, it was pretty good but there were times there when we, as a group, were just OK and he kind of followed that, too.
“There was one he’d like to have back. But he made some big saves when it was 3-2 and that’s when he’s been good this year. He battled and had some loose pucks in front and he kept staying in front of it.’’
Lethemon made 27 saves.
Tech goalie Robbie Beydoun wasn’t particularly good on MSU’s goals by Zach Osburn in the first period and Patrick Khodorenko in the second, but he made some clutch saves on several quality chances by the Spartans.
Beydoun, a 5-foot-11, 182-pounder from Plymouth, Mich., started three of Michigan Tech’s last four games coming into the GLI. Junior transfer Patrick Munson started eight of the first nine games.
Beydoun, who started victories over Ferris State in early December and two vs. Lake Superior State two weeks ago, is now 3-1-1 with a 2.11 goals-against average and a .913 saves percentage. He was teammate with MSU freshman forward Brody Stevens for two seasons (2013-14, 2014-15) with the Fargo Force of the USHL and with Spartan freshman forward Tommy Apap for one season, also with Fargo, in 2015-16.
FALCONS CRUISE: In Monday’s second GLI semifinal, Bowling Green built a 4-0 lead early in the second period and went to a 6-4 victory over Michigan to land a spot in Tuesday’s title game and earn its first GLI victory in school history.
Michigan trailed 5-2 in the third period but scored two goals in less than five minutes to make it 5-4 with 7:23 left. But Lukas Craggs’ empty-netter, his second goal of the game, with 1:14 to go sealed BGSU’s victory.
The Falcons and Michigan Tech, both members of the WCHA, have met twice this season on Nov. 3-4 in Houghton. BGSU won 2-1 and tied the Huskies 2-2, winning the shootout in the series finale.
They play again Feb. 2-3 in Bowling Green.
BACK IN THE FINALS: Michigan Tech has reached the GLI championship game for the third consecutive season and fifth time in the last six seasons. The Huskies defeated Western Michigan, 4-0, in 2012, but lost to WMU 1-0 in 2013, lost to Michigan, 4-2 in 2015 and lost to WMU 1-0 in 2016.
Before claiming the title in 2013, Michigan Tech went 31 seasons without winning the GLI. When they last won in 1980, former Huskies coach Mel Pearson, now in his first year at Michigan, was a senior at Michigan Tech.
As a junior, Pearson scored the game-winning goal in the third overtime to give the Huskies a 5-4 win over Michigan at Olympia Stadium in one of the greatest GLI title games. The Wolverines tied the game with one second left in the third period.
MSU-MICHIGAN ROUND 3: Less than a month ago, Michigan State and Michigan split a home-and-home series with the home team winning with a shut. The Wolverines won 4-0 in the series opener on Dec. 7, with goalie Hayden Lavigne making 21 saves. The Spartans played vastly better in the series finale on Dec. 8, and U-M had a tough first period as MSU built a 2-0 lead in the first period, added two more in the second in a 5-0 win, with goalie John Lethemon stopping 29 shots.
The two teams will do it again at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday in the GLI’s third-place.
This is the third time in the last six years that MSU and U-M have lost in the GLI semifinals and met in the third-place game. Last season, the Spartans battled back from a 4-1 deficit to tie the game but lost in overtime, 5-4. In 2013 at Comerica Park, MSU blanked the Wolverines, 3-0. But in 2012, Michigan topped the Spartans, 5-2.
There was also a recent GLI championship game involving MSU and U-M in 2014. After the Spartans blanked Ferris State, 2-0, and U-M defeated Northern Michigan, 3-2, the Wolverines edged the Spartans, 3-2.
MSU and U-M have two Big Ten games remaining on the schedule. They play at Munn Arena on Feb. 9 and in the annual Duel in the D at Little Caesars Arena on Feb. 10.
FUTURE GLI AT-LARGE GUESTS: The next three years of the GLI will feature in-state teams as the at-large team in the tournament. Lake Superior joins the field next season and will play Michigan State in the semifinals while Michigan Tech faces Michigan. Ferris State returns to tournament in 2019-20, while Northern Michigan is the at-large team in 2020-21.
The Lakers’ last GLI appearance was in 1996. The Bulldogs last played in the tournament in 2015, while NMU most recent visit to Detroit was in 2014.
The last non-state of Michigan team – or close Ohio neighbor BGSU – to play in the GLI was Boston College in 2011.
IN THE BIG TEN: Last weekend, No. 10 Minnesota swept Army, 3-0, 4-1, and Ohio State won twice against Niagara, 3-2, 4-1. Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Penn State were idle.
This weekend, the Spartans play host to Ohio State (12-4-4, 5-4-1) at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Munn Arena, Michigan meets first-place and Notre Dame (16-3-1, 10-0-0), ranked No. 3 in the nation, in a home-and-home series – on Friday in Ann Arbor and on Sunday afternoon in South Bend.
In another conference series, No. 13 Wisconsin (10-9-2, 4-5-1) visits Penn State on Friday and Saturday.
In non-league play, Minnesota (12-9-2, 4-7-1-0) plays a home-and-home series against No. 1 St. Cloud State (12-2-3, 7-2-1). They play on Saturday in St. Cloud and on Sunday at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis. St. Cloud State is coming off two ties (3-3, 2-2) at Princeton.