Neil's Notebook: Spartans Sweep Penn State
Jan. 19, 2014
By Neil Koepke
EAST LANSING - Here's another sign that things are getting better for the Michigan State hockey team:
In the last five games, the Spartans have taken a lead into the third period. Three times they've ended up winning, once they've had to settle for a tie and one time they ended up losing.
On Saturday at Munn Arena, MSU held a 2-1 lead over Penn State entering the third period. But the Nittany Lions tied it, capitalizing on a power play 1:18 into the period.
No big deal. The Spartans liked the way they were playing 5-on-5, and quickly regained the lead at 3:41 on senior center Lee Reimer's goal. MSU then had to work hard to fight off Penn State the rest of the way before claiming a 3-2 victory and a sweep of the Big Ten Conference series.
One night after earning their first Big Ten victory with a 3-0 decision, the Spartans (8-10-3 overall, 2-2-2-2 Big Ten) got their first conference sweep and first league series sweep since winning twice against Alaska on Feb. 17-18, 2012, as a member of the CCHA.
"We came into the weekend wanting six points and we got six points,'' Reimer said.
"We have to clean up some things, but the six points are huge for this team. It's feels good for our team and our confidence.''
Since before the Great Lakes Invitational, MSU is 3-1-2 in its last six contests, with two wins over Penn State and one against Michigan, ties against Michigan Tech and Ohio State and one loss vs. Ohio State.
"Ever since we came back from Christmas, our team has been coming along well,'' Reimer said. "We've been ready to go and get this Big Ten thing going.''
Sophomore center Michael Ferrantino, who had MSU's first goal 1:33 into the first period, said his team didn't get rattled when the Nittany Lions pulled into a 2-2 tie early in the third period.
"It's something you learn as a team as you grow,'' he said. "Our guys are getting more experience so when they got that (tying) goal, we were confident we'd come back and get the next goal.''
MSU struck quickly as senior left wing Dean Chelios, junior defenseman RJ Boyd and Reimer teamed up on a nice rush to score the most important goal of the night. Reimer, who had a goal and two assists onFriday, carried the puck into the PSU zone, passed it to an onrushing Chelios along the right boards. Chelios went in deep and backhanded the puck through the crease to the left boards.
Boyd quickly moved into the left corner and fired it back out front into the crease, with goalie Eamon McAdam a bit out of position. Reimer fought his way back into the front of the net, arriving just in time to deflect Boyd's pass/shot into the net at 3:41.
"Dean made a good play to go to the net and (slid) it through to the other corner,'' Reimer said. "Boyd threw it at the net and it came right to me.
"I had the whole net. If I would have missed that, I would have been really upset.'' Reimer won a key faceoff with 21.7 seconds left in the circle to the left of MSU goaltender Jake Hildebrand. Reimer got the puck back behind the net but it took a few attempts to finally get the puck out of the Spartan zone and assure a victory. "The puck was bouncing around there at the end. One guy threw it in front from the corner,'' Reimer said. "We have to clean out things in front.''
Reimer, 14-7 on faceoffs on Saturday, had arguably his best series of the season with two goals and two assists, eight shots on goal and solid play while penalty killing.
"He's doing the little things, he brings us energy and plays a lot of minutes - penalty kill, power play, 5-on-5 and he's on for key faceoffs,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "This weekend, he got some points.
"We've been happy with his game up until now regardless of whether he was putting up points. We'd love to have the points because it would add to the depth of our offense.''
Reimer's linemates also fared well in the sweep of Penn State. Greg Wolfe had a goal and two assists on Friday and one assist and six shots on goal on Saturday. Chelios also had a goal and an assist on Friday and chipped with an assist on Saturday on Reimer's winning goal.
"Your seniors need to be contributors and some of your best players, and this weekend they were,'' Anastos said. "They set the tone with their work habits and they're playing in all situations.''
Reimer, who will be 24 on Feb. 8, had two goals and three assists for five points in his first 10 games this season. In his last 10, he has two goals and seven assists for nine points.
The 6-foot, 188-pounder from Landmark, Manitoba, is MSU's third-leading scorer with four goals and 14 points in 20 games. Linemate Wolfe is the team scoring leader with eight goals and nine assists for 17 points in 21 games.
Linemate Dean Chelios ranks fourth with one goal and 11 assists for 12 points in 19 games.
Anastos on Saturday repeated what he said about Reimer on Friday: He's thrilled to see him shooting the puck more.
"What he did better this weekend is he looked to shoot the puck,'' Anastos said. "We'd like to see him get shots on net. I knew we'd get energy from him, but I never knew if he would be a point-producer. He's a strong two-way player, he's responsible defensively and he forechecks hard.''
FIRST FOR SORENSON: Junior forward Tanner Sorenson, playing his third straight game, scored his first goal of the season midway through the second period on Saturday to give MSU a 2-1 lead.
Sorenson positioned himself on the goal line to the left of the net, took a pass from Greg Wolfe, who was behind the goal, and quickly fired the puck into the crease. It hit the left pad of PSU goaltender Eamon McAdam and caromed into the net at 7:06.
The ecstatic Sorenson leaped into the air in celebration and ended up crashing to the ice in the corner while be congratulated by his teammates. For sure, it's been a tough season for the 5-foot-9, 179-pound forward from Anchorage, Alaska, who has a tough time finding a spot in the lineup. He started the season with a five-game suspension for a violation of team rules.
Sorenson, who had 13 goals and 21 points last season, played in two games after the suspension, sat out one, played in two more and was scratched for eight consecutive games before getting back in the lineup last Saturday at Ohio State, playing on the fourth line.
He played both games of the Penn State series.
With several players competing for playing time, coach Tom Anastos said early in the season he would reward those who consistently worked hard in practice, produced in games and gave the team the best chance to win with playing time. Until last week, Sorenson wasn't in that mix.
"It's been a tough year. It's nice to get back into a regular loop and back into the game-day ritual,'' Sorenson said. "I'm well-rested. Every time you get a chance to start playing again it re-energizes you.''
Now that he has his first goal, Sorenson is eager to stay in the lineup and contribute more, and be part of more sweeps.
"It's our first since Princeton and first in conference play since my freshman year,'' he said. "Matt Berry and I have this thing that if we sweep, we go to Red Lobster. We're going, right Berry?''
Said Berry: "Red Lobster. Tomorrow.''
2-2-2-2 LOOKS PRETTY GOOD: The Spartans have a weird-looking Big Ten record but it looks a lot better than it did a week ago Friday when, after a 5-3 loss at Ohio State, MSU fell to 0-2-1-1 with two points. After a 2-2 tie and shootout win with OSU and shootout win and two victories over Penn State, the Spartans have 10 points in Big Ten play with a 2-2-2-2 record. Just like in the CCHA, conference victories in regulation or overtime are worth three points, while a shootout win is worth two and a shootout loss is just one point.
The six-point weekend lifts the Spartans into third place in the Big Ten with 10 points, two behind second-place Wisconsin (4-2-0), which was idle this weekend.
Michigan (2-2), also idle, is in fourth place with six points, two in front of Ohio State (1-4-1-0). The Wolverines have two games in hand on Wisconsin, MSU, OSU and PSU and four in hand on first-place Minnesota (7-0-1-0).
The Gophers (17-2-3 overall), ranked No. 1, swept Ohio State, 1-0 and 4-2.
TOUGH STRETCH: The road ahead gets more fun and challenging for the Spartans. MSU's next two opponents are Michigan and No. 1 Minnesota.
The Spartans and Wolverines meet at 7 p.m. on Thursday at Joe Louis Arena and then at 6:30 p.m. on Friday at Munn Arena. The Wolverines are 0-4-1 since sweeping Ohio State, Nov. 29 and Dec. 2. They tied Ferris State, lost to Western Michigan and MSU in the GLI and got swept last weekend at Wisconsin.
After the Michigan series, the Spartans play at Minnesota on Jan. 31-Feb. 1.
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