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Neil’s Notebook: Spartans Start Strong, But Can’t Hang On in Loss

Jan. 3, 2018

By Neil Koepke staff writer

DETROIT – With five minutes left in the second period, things looked very upbeat and promising for Michigan State.

The Spartans were playing well and holding a 3-1 lead on Michigan in the third-place game in the 53rd annual Great Lakes Invitational.

They were moving the puck well, creating good chances and keeping the Wolverines’ offense from creating many quality scoring opportunities.

But in less than a minute – 58 seconds to be exact – the momentum of the game took a drastic change.

Michigan scored two quick goals – one by a freshman with his first goal of his career - and suddenly the game was tied 3-3.

More defending issues and some bad bounces doomed the Spartans in the third period as U-M scored two early goals to take control and went on to a 6-4 victory on Tuesday afternoon at Little Caesars Arena.

The Wolverines scored four unanswered goals during a stretch of 8 minutes and 18 seconds – two in 4:21 to end the second period and two goals in 3:57 to start the third.

“The bottom line, give Michigan credit. While they got down, they played hard and kept throwing pucks at the net and we didn’t defend well enough,’’ MSU coach Danton Cole said. “I talked to the guys in the locker room and said that we scored six goals (in two GLI games) and that’s enough to win two games – if we defend well.’’

A strong start – MSU sped out to 2-0 lead before the game was five minutes old – and a good early second period in which the Spartans answered a U-M goal with a skillful power-play goal by Patrick Khodorenko for a 3-1 lead were spoiled by defensive issues.

And a winnable game against MSU’s top rival turned into a frustrating defeat.



“The biggest things for me is we have to defend better,’’ said Cole, whose team gave up four goals, not including an empty-netter, in a 5-2 loss to Michigan Tech in Monday’s GLI opening semifinal.

“There are certain areas we have to close and close at the right side, and that’s something we’ve been very, very good at. But we weren’t (in the last two games).

“We’re moving through this process of trying to be a better hockey team. If you don’t do that, you can’t move on to the second step.’’

Taro Hirose and Logan Lambdin scored for the Spartans (8-11-1 overall, 2-7-1-1 Big Ten) in the first period. Hirose’s goal, off a 2-on-1 rush and a pass from linemate Mitchell Lewandowski, came 26 seconds after the opening faceoff.

Lambdin tipped defenseman Carson Gatt’s shot from the point into the left corner, finishing off an excellent passing play at 4:34.

“We were moving the puck well and finding spaces in the offensive zone, and the defense was moving the puck up to the forwards really well,’’ Hirose said. “I wouldn’t say it was our best period but probably one of our best.’’

Michigan sophomore forward James Sanchez scored his first goal of the season at 3:12 of the second period to cut MSU’s lead to 2-1. Sanchez’s shot from the left circle beat Spartans goalie John Lethemon to the right corner.

Sanchez was called for tripping at 4:52 and Michigan State capitalized with a dazzling display of puck possession that led to power-play goal by Khodorenko to put the Spartans back up by two goals at 3-1. The Spartans kept the puck in the U-M zone for 96 seconds with crisp passes, good retrievals and smart decisions.

“I thought we were playing well at that point. That power-play goal was big for us and we got the momentum back on our side,’’ said Gatt, who had two assists. “But like coach said, we got away from defending, and kind of allowed two easy type goals, actually three from us not defending well. From a defenseman’s standpoint, that’s not good.’’

Before MSU could escape the second period with the lead, Michigan battled back, made some good plays around the net and were rewarded with two goals within 58 seconds. Freshman Michael Pastujov scored his first career goal from behind the goal line, banking the puck off Lethemon’s arm and into the net at 15:39.

Cooper Marody tied with the first of his three goals at 16:37 when he directed a cross-ice pass into the slot from Tony Calderone into the net off Lethemon’s skate.

The Wolverines carried their momentum into the third period, along with some good puck luck.

U-M took the lead for good at 4-3 when defenseman Cutler Martin’s shot from the right boards first deflected off the right skate of MSU defenseman Butrus Ghafari and caromed into the middle of the ice and into the slot. It then hit the backside of Spartans defenseman Zach Osburn. changed directions and slid through the crease and into the net at 1:39.

Michigan’s fourth-straight goal came on a power play at 3:57 with Marody getting open in the slot and firing a perfect shot past Lethemon and into the top right corner for a 5-3 lead.

Khodorenko, who had two goals and was named to the GLI All-Tournament Team, capped another fast-moving power play with a quick shot from the edge of the create that beat U-M goalie Hayden Lavigne at 9:46 with MSU on a 5-on-3 power play. It cut the Spartans’ deficit to one goal.

But a late turnover ended the Spartans’ comeback bid as Marody scored his third goal with a tap-in from the edge of the crease at 16:13 to hike U-M’s edge to 6-4. Marody is in a three-way tie for the NCAA scoring lead with 28 points (7-21-28).

Lethemon made 32 saves while Lavigne stopped 22 shots.

In the decisive third period, Michigan outshot Michigan State, 15-7.

“I didn’t think we played fast enough tonight. After about 25-30 minutes, every time we had the puck we were surprised that there was someone challenging us,’’ Cole said. “It’s not like practice where it’s a 5-on-0 drill. That’s how we kind of played it. That little bit of a sense of urgency, that has to be better.

“Our guys are trying to figure out stuff. They’re young and they make mistakes, and you see it with young teams, you see momentum swings like that. When things are going well, they feel really good and sometime when things bad, they feel bad about stuff and stop moving their feet.’’

FALCONS REIGN: Bowling Green won its first GLI championship with a 4-1 victory over Michigan Tech in Tuesday night’s title game. The Falcons led 1-0 after the first period, the Huskies tied it early in the second, but BGSU took the lead for good on Connor Ford’s goal at 8:04 of the middle period.

In the third period, the Falcons pulled away with goals by John Schilling and Tyler Spezia at 12:10 and 13:30, respectively.

BGSU, which was 0-4 in two previous GLI appearances, defeated Michigan, 6-4, in Monday’s second semifinal.

The GLI All-Tournament team included BGSU goalie Eric Dop, defensemen Alex Rauhauser of BGSU and Mitch Reinke of Michigan Tech and forwards Cooper Marody of Michigan, Lukas Craggs of BGSU and the Spartans’ Khodorenko. Craggs was named GLI Most Valuable Player.

STAT TRACKER: Sophomore center Patrick Khodorenko has scored five goals in his last three games, including four against Michigan – two in Tuesday’s GLI third-place game and two in MSU’s 5-0 win over the Wolverines on Dec. 8 at Munn Arena.

Khodorenko, who had one goal vs. Michigan Tech on Monday, now has nine goals and nine assists for 18 points in 20 points. He’s MSU’s third-leading scorer, behind linemates Taro Hirose (7-17-24) and Mitchell Lewandowski (10-12-22). Before the recent stretch, Khodorenko went 12 straight games without a goal. He started the season with no goals in MSU’s first game and a goal in each of the next four games.

In Tuesday’s GLI third-place contest, junior forward Cody Milan had three assists, senior defenseman Carson Gatt assisted on two goals and Hirose had a goal and an assist.

In fact, Gatt was originally credited with MSU’s second goal when his shot from the point found its way into the left corner of the net. But before the second period started, the goal was changed to junior forward Logan Lambdin, who apparently got his stick on the puck before entering the net.

It was Lambdin’s third of the second and second against Michigan in the last two games. He scored a power-play goal vs. the Wolverines on Dec. 8.

MSU was 2-for-4 on the power play, while U-M was 1-for-4. The Spartans’ power play now ranks 12th in the nation at 23.4 percent (18-for-77).

UP NEXT: For the Spartans, it’s two games down and two to go in the busiest week of the season in which MSU will play four games in six days. After two games in the Great Lakes Invitational, Michigan State will take today off, practice on Thursday and play Ohio State at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at Munn Arena.

The No. 8 Buckeyes (12-4-4 overall, 5-4-1 Big Ten) and MSU have not played each other this season. The Buckeyes, 7-1-2 in their last 10 games have won four straight, including a non-conference sweep of Niagara, 3-2, 4-1, last Friday and Saturday.

OSU is averaging 2.80 goals per game, which ranks tied for 35th nationally. Top scorer Tanner Laczynski, sophomore, has nine goals and 16 assists for 25 points, which is tied for 10th in the national.

Junior Mason Jobst is second in Buckeye scoring with nine goals and 12 assists for 21 points. Senior Matthew Weiss is next with seven goals and 12 assists for 19 points.

Defensively, the Buckeyes have been stellar and stingy. They rank No. 4 in the nation and are the best in the Big Ten with a 2.05 goals-against average. Only Clarkson (1.35 GAA), Cornell (1.85) and Notre Dame (2.00) have allowed few goals per game.

Goalie Sean Romeo, a junior transfer from Maine, is 10-4-4 with a 1.93 GAA and a .928 saves percentage. His GAA ranks 7th in the nation and his saves percentage is No. 6.

If there’s any blemish on Ohio State’s early season it’s being only one game above .500 in Big Ten play at 5-4-1. Its non-conference record is 7-0-3. However, the Buckeyes had some excellent moments in Big Ten play over the last three months. They swept Michigan, 3-2, 5-1, at Yost Arena, swept Minnesota, 2-1, 4-1 in Columbus and split at Wisconsin with a 3-2 win and 3-2 loss.

OSU did lose twice at home against Notre Dame, 4-1, 3-2, and tied and lost vs. Penn State at home, 5-5, 4-0, respectively.

The Buckeyes are in second place in the conference with 16 points, 14 behind first-place Notre Dame, which is a perfect 10-0 in league play. OSU is one point up on Penn State and two points ahead of Minnesota and three in front of Wisconsin.

Steve Rohlik, a 1990 Wisconsin graduate, is entering his fifth season as Ohio State coach. He has a 79-67-22 record.

IN THE BIG TEN: Notre Dame (16-3-1, 10-0) hasn’t played since Dec. 8-9 but it’s taken over the No. 1 ranking in the USA Today/U.S. Hockey Magazine poll. Previous-No. 1 St. Cloud State is 1-0-3 in its last four games, including two ties at Princeton last weekend, and has dropped back to No. 2.

But the Huskies are still No. 1 in the USCHO poll, with Notre Dame at No. 2. Denver has fallen out of the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in recent weeks after going 2-2-2 in its last six games, including home losses to Dartmouth and Merrimack. The Pioneers are No. 4 in the USCHO poll.

The Irish begin 2018 with a home-and-home series with Michigan – in Ann Arbor on Friday and in South Bend on Sunday afternoon.

In the other Big Ten series, No. 14 Penn State plays host to No. 15 Wisconsin on Friday and Saturday.

In battle of two highly ranked teams in the state of Minnesota, No. 2 St. Cloud State and No. 10 Minnesota meet in a home-and-home series. The teams play on Saturday in St. Cloud and Sunday in Minneapolis.

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