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Neil’s Notebook: Solid Effort Turns into Tough Defeat

Jan. 15, 2017

By Neil Koepke staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – For 49 minutes, Michigan State played one of its best games of the season, and with a 2-1 lead was in position to upset Penn State, the No. 4-ranked team in the nation. The Spartans were opportunistic, playing with great energy, playing smart, and were solid defensively against the second-highest scoring team in the nation.

And then one Spartan mistake, one bad pass into the middle of the ice turned the game around and it led to another Michigan State defeat.

The Nittany Lions took advantage of the turnover and turned it into the tying goal at 9:31 of the third period.

They used the momentum to score three more goals within 2 minutes and 44 seconds, starting at 15:06, and emerged with a 5-3 victory over the Spartans on Saturday night at Pegula Ice Arena. A solid, hard-working performance by Michigan State turned into a gut-wrenching defeat for a team in desperate need of a victory, and one which has now lost nine games in a row.

The Spartans (4-15-1 overall, 0-6 Big Ten) led 1-0 after the first period, 2-1 after the second, but got overwhelmed by the Nittany Lions (16-2-1, 5-1 Big Ten), who scored third period goals at 9:31, 15:06, 15:15 and 17:50 before MSU got one back by freshman defenseman Damian Chrcek with 12 seconds left.

“I liked how hard our team played, but we didn’t play smart enough long enough,’’ MSU coach Tom Anastos said. “We made a costly turnover that gave them a chance to take the momentum and they did.

“We played well to our game plan and then we deviated.’’

Penn State took advantage of defenseman Zach Osburn’s pass from the right boards in the neutral zone into the middle of the ice. It was intercepted by the Nittany Lions and they raced into the Spartans’ zone with an odd man rush that turned into the tying goal by senior forward Ricky DeRosa.



“Penn State was playing hard in the third period but that opened the door . . . for a change and shift in momentum,’’ Anastos said. “You can’t make those kind of mistakes on the road and win.’’

Less than six minutes after the tying goal, Spartan defenseman Jerad Rosburg was sent off for hooking at 15:00, and six seconds after the ensuing faceoff in the MSU zone, Penn State senior forward Dylan Richard fired in a rebound off the backboards to break the 2-2 deadlock.

Nine seconds after Richard’s goal, Penn State stormed into the MSU zone and sophomore center Chase Berger took a pass from behind the net and beat MSU goalie Ed Minney (46 saves, 19 in third period) to boost the lead to 4-2.

But the onslaught wasn’t over. Freshman left wing Denis Smirnov, the Big Ten’s leading scorer, cruised in on a breakaway and scored at 17:50 to give PSU a 5-2 lead. It was Smirnov’s first point of the series.

Chrcek’s goal, from the right circle with 12 seconds left, made it a two-goal game. It was Chrcek’s first goal and first point of his collegiate career.

“Penn State thrives on that momentum. I thought we took the crowd out of it for the majority of the game,’’ Anastos said. “We served it up and that’s what you get. We knew that and yet we created that on ourselves.’’

The Spartans led 1-0 on freshman left wing Taro Hirose’s unassisted goal from the slot at 13:12 of the first period. Even though it was unassisted, since a PSU player lost possession before Hirose got the puck, the goal was set up by hard work by linemates Mason Appleton and Joe Cox.

After the Nittany Lions tied it 1-1 on a power-play goal by Berger 29 seconds into the second period, Appleton deflected Hirose’s shot from the left point past PSU goalie Peyton Jones (25 saves) for a power-play goal with 5:28 left in the middle period that gave the Spartans a 2-1 lead.

MSU did an excellent job of killing off a Penn State power play to start the third period, and was effective in limiting the Nittany Lions quality scoring chances later in the period.

But Penn State, the second-highest scoring team in the nation, averaging 4.53 goals per game, stayed patient, waiting to make a big play or take advantage of a visitor’s mistake.

The Nittany Lions did and it changed the momentum and led to another victory, their third in a row and 14th in their last 15 games.

For the Spartans, this loss was particularly tough to take for Anastos, his coaching staff and the players. A Winnable game turned into a loss.

“That would be the definition of shooting yourself in the foot,’’ Appleton said of the third-period collapse. “We got away from our game plan and stopped doing the things we do. We made some bad plays, some dumb mistakes.

“Obviously, they stuck with their game plan and did it for 60 minutes. We played ours’ for 45 and that’s not going to get you a win.

“Coach had a great game plan and we executed it for the majority of the game. We were on the right side of the scoreboard going into the third period and got a good (penalty) kill right at the start. Then we deviated from the plan and that’s how we ended up down, 5-2.

“I thought we did a good job of coming back and defending, for the most part. They’re a team that thrives on transition and rushes being fast. We realized that we had to have good back pressure if we want to stop their firepower.’’

For 49 minutes, the Spartans did just that. The last 11 minutes, not so much.

TALE OF THE STATS: Michigan State was 1-for-5 on the power play while Penn State was 2-for-5. The Nittany Lions outshot MSU, 51-28. PSU averages 48 shots per game.

Villiam Haag led MSU with five shots on goal, and his new line, with Thomas Ebbing and Patrick Khodorenko, had nine shots on goal. Ebbing and Khodorenko each had two shots. Taro Hirose and Connor Wood each had four shots on goal.

Penn State’s line of center Chase Berger, left wing David Goodwin and right wing Brandon Biro combined for 15 shots on goal. Berger, who had two goals, had six shots, Biro five and Goodwin four.

The Nittany Lions’ six defensemen had 17 shots on goal, led by sophomore Vince Pedrie, who had seven and set up the tying goal at 2-2 and the go-ahead goal at 3-2.

LINE CLICKS: Coach Tom Anastos put together some new forward lines for both games of the PSU series. The unit of sophomore Mason Appleton centering freshman Taro Hirose, his usual linemate, on left wing and senior Joe Cox on the right side played hard, moved the puck well and created good scoring chances. “Taro got a nice goal for us to start the game, and I thought we did a lot of good things as a line,’’ Appleton said. “We haven’t been together (with Cox) before so it’ll be a learning process. But Joe is a hard worker and does a lot of good things. I think he complements me and Taro.”

Hirose scored his fourth goal of the season on Saturday and assisted on Appleton’s ninth goal, on a power play. Hirose looks very good bringing the puck up the ice on a power play and setting up plays from this spot on the left point. “He’s really shifty, has good hands and skill and does a great job carrying the puck,’’ Appleton said of Hirose.

Appleton and Hirose are MSU’s top two scorers. Appleton has nine goals and 10 assist for 19 points, while Hirose has four goals and 10 assists for 14 points. Both have played in 20 games. Appleton has seven power-play goals.

UP NEXT: The Spartans play a two-game series against Michigan next weekend, starting with a 6:30 p.m. game Friday at Yost Arena in Ann Arbor and closing with a 7 p.m. contest on Saturday at Munn Arena. The teams have already played one game this season. In the Great Lakes Invitational third-place game, the Spartans rallied from a 4-1 deficit with three goals in the third periods to tie it 4-4, but lost in overtime, 5-4. After next weekend, Michigan State is off Jan. 27-28.

In February, the Spartans are home for six games (series against Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State), on the road for one game with Michigan and one game in Detroit against the Wolverines.

IN THE BIG TEN: Minnesota extended its winning streak to seven games with a 4-2 victory over Michigan on Saturday to sweep the series after cruising to a 5-2 win over the Wolverines on Friday. The No. 9 Gophers (13-5-2, 5-1 Big Ten) took a 3-0 lead on goals with three seconds left in the first period, 43 seconds to go in the middle period and 39 seconds into the third period. Michigan (8-11-1, 1-5) made it close in the third period with goals at 8:34 and 14:22 to make it 3-2, but Minnesota held on and wrapped it up with Vinni Lettieri’s third goal of the game into an empty net with 23 seconds left. Lettieri’s second goal, early in the third period, came on a penalty shot.

Meanwhile, Ohio State’s bid to sweep Arizona State in a non-conference series fell short as the Sun Devils scored with 26 seconds left to tie it 2-2 and that’s the way it ended after a scoreless overtime. The Buckeyes (11-4-5, 2-2) won the series opener 6-1 on Friday.

Wisconsin had the weekend off.

Next week, in addition to the MSU-Michigan series, Wisconsin plays host to Minnesota and Ohio State visits Penn State for their second series in three weeks. The teams split last weekend in Columbus, the Buckeyes winning 3-0 and PSU holding on for a 4-2 victory in the series finale.

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