Jan. 12, 2014
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Michigan State wants to be known as a team that is consistently tough to play against and is willing to pay the price by sacrificing their bodies in order to have success.
That means lots of players blocking shots and feeling pain on various parts of their bodies, all in the name of winning hockey games.
On Friday, the Spartans blocked only eight shots in a 5-3 Big Ten loss to Ohio State.
On Saturday, MSU blocked 19 shots, including 14 by defensemen, in a 1-1 tie against the Buckeyes, with the Spartans capturing the shootout 3-2 to earn two of three points in the Big Ten series finale.
"Tonight, it was a big difference in our game. That's part of our identity,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "On Friday, we had eight blocks, a low number for us. I see 19 tonight and that's more like it.''
During Ohio State's 5-on-3 power play for 1 minute and 3 seconds in the second period on Saturday, the Spartans blocked four shots - two by defenseman Travis Walsh and one each by defenseman Jake Chelios and center Lee Reimer.
The Buckeyes managed only one shot on goal during the 5-on-3 and came away still trailing 1-0 with about five minutes left in the second period.
"When you see guys sacrificing their bodies, I put that in the compete category,'' Anastos said. "The expectations we have more align with how we should be playing all the time.''
Another big difference in the Spartans' play from Friday to Saturday was a big reduction in defensive mistakes. MSU moved the puck better and played smarter in a game in which it didn't allow a goal until the third period was eight minutes old.
"We're trying to establish our team as one that will do anything it takes to win . . . sacrificing the body to win games,'' MSU senior right wing and captain Greg Wolfe said.
"We've tried to go into every game with the mindset to block as many shots as we can, being hard to play against and helping our goalies as much as we can. Tonight, I thought we were a lot harder to play against.''
A good example was during OSU's 5-on-3 advantage, with MSU forward Brett Darnell and defenseman BJ Boyd in the penalty box starting at 15:14 of the second period.
"Anytime you have guys who are willing to go down in front of shots, that gets the other guys going and gives us energy on the bench,'' Wolfe said.
"We also had a couple of huge blocks in overtime. Lee Reimer had one that was a pretty good stinger. That's what it takes to win.''
Anastos liked almost everything about his team's performance -- --- effort, grit and poise and better play in its own zone.
"Our performance was good. I was really happy about it, with the exception of that series of turnovers that led to their only goal,'' he said. "It was a hard-fought game and I liked our team better in so many different ways.''
Berry scored MSU's only goal at 2:49 of the first period, his fifth goal in his last four games and third against OSU in two games.
The Buckeyes tied it 1-1 at 8:10 of the third period after MSU failed to clear the puck out of its zone on the left boards. The Buckeyes gained possession and Anthony Greco found Darik Angeli alone in the slot and he took the pass, turned and beat Hildebrand.
But the Spartans, having lost a one-goal lead for the second-straight game, did not wilt. They played aggressively instead of tentatively and created a few quality scoring chances.
"I thought we responded well and had chances to win the game,'' Anastos said. "This was a big test. We had to pay the price to get these points. I liked how we competed from start to the end of the game.''
ROAD STREAK ENDS: The Spartans are still looking for their first road victory but at least they were able to earn some points on the road against the Buckeyes. Until Saturday's tie, MSU had lost six in a row in enemy rinks - two at UMass, two at Michigan Tech, one at Western Michigan and one at Ohio State on Friday.
The Spartans' next series will be a major challenge - at No. 1 Minnesota on Jan. 31-Feb. 1.
SHOOTOUT KINGS: When it comes to shootouts in the Big Ten, nobody does it better than Michigan State. There have been 14 conference games played thus far this season, and the Spartans are better than any team in the league in one category.
The Spartans have played in two shootouts during their first four games and have won both. MSU tied Minnesota 2-2 on Dec. 6 and then earned two points in the standings while the Gophers took home one.
The Spartans lost a shootout in the Great Lakes Invitational that kept them out of the GLI title game. They tied Michigan Tech 2-2 but the shootout was needed to determine which team would advance to the championship game. After MSU's Villiam Haag scored in the shootout and Hildebrand stopped the Huskies' first two shooters,Tech tied it on its third shot and eventually went on to win it 2-1.
In Saturday's shootout against Ohio State, the Buckeyes elected to shoot second. So Ferrantino skated in and fired the puck past OSUgoaltender Matt Tomkins to give MSU a 1-0 lead. OSU's Alex Szczechura was stopped by Hildebrand to complete the first round.
Haag missed and so did the Buckeyes' Ryan Dzingel, so MSU's Matt Berry had a chance to win it, but his shot went wide.
That left it up to Tanner Fritz of the Buckeyes. Hildebrand got a piece of Fritz's shot with his stick and while it appeared that the save was made and the shootout was over, that wasn't the case. The puck deflected behind Hildebrand and slowly slid over the goal line.
"He shot it five hole and I got my stick on it and thought it slid off my stick to the right, but apparently it ramped off my pad. That was a tough one,'' Hildebrand said.
MSU's Joe Cox then scored on Tomkins but the Buckeyes Nick Schilkey beat Hildebrand with a backhand shot to tie it 2-2.
Brent Darnell of MSU and OSU's Nick Oddo both missed in round five, but the Spartans' Tanner Sorenson skated in close, slowed, faked a slap shot and then fired the puck into the top right corner for 3-2 MSU lead. Hildebrand and the Spartans won it when Darik Angeli, who had OSU's only goal in regulation, shot wide and MSU skated off with the extra point.
"There was that long streak I had, losing nine shootouts, and then it ended against Minnesota, but we lost the heartbreaker in the GLI,'' Hildebrand said. "I just wanted to bounce back.''
The Spartan goaltender said he was determined to raise his level of play on Saturday after giving up five goals on Friday.
"I wasn't pleased with the way I performed on Friday and I wanted to come back and make sure I did a better job for our team,'' he said. "We scored three goals on Friday and that's usually enough to get us a win.
"I wanted to bounce back and our guys were great.''
STELLAR WEEKEND: The forward line of Michael Ferrantino centering Joe Cox and Matt Berry had a hand in all four Spartan goals against the Buckeyes. Berry had two goals on Friday and one on Saturday. Cox chipped in with MSU's third goal on Friday that gave MSU a 3-2 lead in the last minute of the second period.
Ferrantino had two assists - one each game -- and defenseman Jake Chelios continued to pile up points with two assists on Friday and one on Saturday.Cox's goal was his fifth of the season.
UP NEXT: The Spartans play host to Penn State on Friday and Saturday at Munn Arena. Both games begin at 6:30 p.m.
The Nittany Lions (4-10-1 overall, 0-2 Big Ten) will play two games before facing the Spartans. They'll face No. 1 Minnesota (13-2-3), 3-0-1-0) tonight and Monday in State College, Pa. Monday's game will be televised by the Big Ten Network.
BIG TEN UPDATE: Wisconsin kept Michigan on the skids by sweeping the Wolverines, 5-2, 3-1, in Madison. The Wolverines have lost four straight games and are winless in five at 0-4-0.
Michigan is idle this weekend and won't play again until they face Michigan State on Jan. 23 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit and on Jan. 24 at Munn Arena. Wisconsin is also idle this weekend.
In addition to the MSU-Penn State series, Ohio State visits Minnesota this weekend.