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Neil’s Notebook: Spartans Battle Back to Tie Wolverines

Jan. 22, 2017

By Neil Koepke staff writer

EAST LANSING – One team was eager to savor a series sweep. The other was determined to salvage a series split.

After 65 minutes of play – three periods and an overtime – neither Michigan State or Michigan achieved their goal.

The Spartans and Wolverines put on a good show on Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 6,556 at Munn Arena as the two teams battled to a 2-2 tie in the second game of a Big Ten series.

The good news for Michigan State was it started the weekend with a 3-0 victory over the Wolverines on Friday and didn’t lose in the series finale.

For Michigan, the good news was not getting swept by its main rival and at least won the shootout, 1-0, earning two points in the Big Ten standings, while MSU comes away with one point.

The Spartans fought back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits and tied the game 2-2 on freshman center Patrick Khodorenko’s power-play goal at 10:40 of the third period.

MSU survived a U-M power play a few minutes after tying the game, and the Wolverines skated off a Spartan power play early in overtime.

Michigan State had some excellent opportunities to win it and celebrate its first sweep of Michigan since 2009-10, but Zach Nagelvoort (25 saves) had an excellent night in goal for the Wolverines.

Michigan lifted its game to a higher level than it showed in Friday’s loss at home and had good chances to win, but Spartan goalie Ed Minney (23 saves) made some key stops to keep the visitors from skating off with a victory.

“Overall, I was happy with how we played almost all weekend,” MSU sophomore center/right wing Mason Appleton said. “Our attention to detail was the best it’s been all season.



“We have to play 60 minutes of consistent hockey and I think tonight we played about 55. There was a little bit of time in the second period where we got away from our game. But these were the two best games we’ve played on back-to-back nights since North Dakota.’’

Before this weekend, MSU’s most memorable series was over Thanksgiving weekend at North Dakota – a 4-3 win and a 2-2 tie.

“We did what we needed to do to win on Friday in Ann Arbor and we had another good game tonight,’’ said Appleton, who didn’t have a goal or assist but did have two shots on goal and a few others that were off target.

“But it sucks to lose in the shootout.’’

Even though the game is a tie in the overall records, a shootout loss in the conference standings still feels like a loss to the players, while a shootout victory gives a team the feeling that it won the game.

In the shootout, MSU’s Joe Cox, Taro Hirose and Sam Saliba were stopped by Navelvoort. Minney made a save on U-M’s Alex Kile and Will Lockwood shot wide to the right. But sophomore Cooper Marody won it when he beat Minney low to the right corner in the third round to win it, 1-0.

“It’s tough to lose in the shootout but we can’t dwell on it. I thought we played a pretty good team game and did a good job of coming back twice to tie it tonight,’’ said Saliba, who had two assists and was an excellent 16-7 on faceoffs.

“We got contributions from the whole team this weekend, just like North Dakota, where we defended well and were hard to play against.’’

Both Michigan goals were set up by shots from the point. Defenseman Nolan De Jong’s shot from the right point in the middle of the ice found its way past Minney at 6:23 of the first period to give the Wolverines a 1-0 lead.

In the second period, U-M went up 2-1 when defenseman Sam Piazza’s shot from the left point deflected off right wing Alex Kile on the edge of the crease ended up in the net at 12:33.

MSU tied it 1-1 on junior right wing Dylan Pavelek’s first goal of the season from the edge of crease, with Logan Lambdin and Saliba assisting. Saliba made an excellent play along the right boards to send a pass down low to Lambdin, who sent the puck in front.

The clutch power-play goal, which tied it 2-2 at 10:40 of the third period, was set up by Saliba’s backhander from the slot that glanced off the stick of Khodorenko and fluttered over Nagelvoort’s right shoulder.

“I just tried to get it down and get it to the net, and Patty did a great job to tip it in,’’ Saliba said.

The goal was Khodorenko’s fourth of the season and first since Dec. 18 against Northeastern.

The Spartans went 1-for-5 on the power play and have now scored one power-play goal in eight of their last nine games. Michigan was 0-for-3 but its first goal – by De Jong – was set up during the tail end of a power play and scored four seconds after a tripping penalty to Villiam Haag expired.

After losing nine straight games and giving up five goals in each of the last five games, MSU coach Tom Anastos was upbeat about the two games with the Wolverines.

“What I said to our group after the game was that when you look at the work we did at Penn State last weekend and the work this weekend, I thought an identity is emerging,’’ he said. “We pretty much played four lines and six defensemen and we scored both nights on the power play and we didn’t give up any power-play goals.

“Those things are things we’ve been inconsistent in, so to build some consistency was really positive.’’

Anastos would have loved to send the sellout crowd home buzzing about an overtime or shootout victory.

“It was a great, great crowd and that’s why I hate having them leave without the right taste in their mouth. Hopefully, they were entertained by the game and saw us fight back to tie the game,’’ he said. “I was hoping like heck that we could finish that overtime with a goal. I would have taken a shootout win. Our guys really appreciated that crowd.’’

Anastos credited Michigan for playing a much better game than it did on Friday and Nagelvoort for making a big difference for his team.

“Michigan played a much stronger game, a much harder game tonight. They did a better job at defending our power play,’’ he said. “We made some adjustments and in the end, they didn’t pay off. We had some good looks but couldn’t make the right play in overtime.

“I thought pucks were bouncing off Nagelvoort, but we couldn’t take advantage of those chances, especially in the second period. Khodorenko’s line had two or three point-blank opportunities to score and we didn’t finish. Nagelvoort found a way to stop the puck.

“It was a good hockey game It was up and back and I certainly would have liked to finish some of our chances. I liked how we fought back after falling behind.

“I hate to lose the shootout but Ed Minney had a good weekend and played really well. I liked our body of work up and down our roster. I’m not going to let the shootout ruin six periods of hockey.’’

In the two games against Michigan, the Spartans got some scoring from unexpected sources. Chris Knudson and Connor Wood, along with Saliba, scored on Friday, and Pavelek got his first goal of the season in his 10th game of the season.

“I liked that we had four lines going and guys were contributing throughout the lineup,’’ Anastos said. “Hopefully, that will be a confidence boost for Pavelek. I thought the Saliba line (with Lambdin and Pavelek) played well and Khodorenko played well, too.’’

After dealing with one loss after another during the nine-game losing streak, MSU captain Joe Cox was happy to be breaking down some positives.

“I liked the way our guys played. I thought we battled hard the whole weekend,’’ he said. “For 125 minutes, guys were selling out, throwing their bodies around to make plays. We had that with everyone in the lineup.

“This weekend, we had great production throughout the lineup. You saw Woody’s (Connor Wood) take over Friday’s game and Saliba take over this game. We had good energy.

“I loved the way we battled back. But I have to give it to Nagelvoort. He really kept them in the game. I played on the same team with him for a while with Compuware. He was a big difference in this game.’’

DEFENSE RESPONDS: After giving up five goals in each of the last five games and 35 goals over the last seven contests, Michigan State had its best weekend defensively, giving up only two goals in two games.

The Spartans defended better in their own zone and moved the puck faster and out of the zone with more consistency than they have all season. It probably started with a strong 49 minutes at Penn State last Saturday, before the Nittany Lions rallied for five goals to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 5-3 victory.

“We came out with more jump, more intensity and battled and that made a difference in how we played,’’ senior captain Joe Cox said. “I thought we controlled most of the games.’’

Before this weekend, MSU’s lowest number of goals against in any series was five to Denver in 2-1 and 3-1 losses in mid-October. The Spartans actually gave up only four goals since the third goal in the second game was into an empty net.

FIRST KNUDSON, THEN PAVELEK: Chris Knudson was one of the heroes of Friday’s 3-0 win at Michigan as played on the fourth line with Connor Wood and Brennan Sanford, and, in his first game of the season and first in more than year, he scored his first career goal to give MSU a 2-0 lead midway through the second period.

On Saturday, junior right wing Dylan Pavelek, playing in only his 10th game of the season, scored his first goal and fourth of his career when he found a spot on the edge of the crease and tapped in loose puck to tie the game at 10:26 of the second period.

Every weekend, players like Pavelek, Knudson, Cody Milan and JT Stenglein compete for playing time. Pavelek was a healthy scratch for nine consecutive games from Nov. 4 to Dec. 29, and then sat out the second Wisconsin game two weeks ago and the first Penn State game two weeks ago.

Pavelek played in the second game at PSU and assisted on freshman defenseman Damian Chrcek’s first career goal in the final seconds of the game. It was his second assist of the season.

He remained the lineup, teaming with Saliba and Lambdin, for the Michigan series.

“I was put in good position to work hard and work down low and get in front of the net,’’ he said of his first goal of the year. “Saliba did a good job of bringing the puck to the net and Lambdin boxed out. I got a lucky bounce when the puck went off their skate and went right to me and I just buried it.

“It’s exciting to just get a spot in the lineup. Knudson works hard and I work hard and we battle every week in practice to play. To be rewarded like that, it’s special. It’s what we strive to do.’’

Pavelek’s first career goal was scored at Michigan a year ago, on Jan. 9, 2016. Once again, he found the back of the net against the Wolverines.

“It was a great feeling. One of the more exciting goals I’ve had,’’ he said. “I got my first goal at Michigan and this was a great feeling for sure.’’

UP NEXT: The Spartans are idle this weekend and they’ll have limited practice time during the week, per NCAA rules. They’ll resume regular practices on Jan. 30, in preparation for the Wisconsin series, Feb. 3-4, at Munn Arena.

MSU will be busy in February with eight games, six at home, one on the road at Michigan and one vs. the Wolverines at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

After the Badgers series, the Spartans face Michigan again – in Detroit, Feb. 10 and at Yost Arena in Arbor on Feb. 11.

Then it’s two-game home series against Ohio State, Feb. 17-18, and vs. Penn State, Feb. 24-25.

MSU’s final two series are on the road – at Ohio State, March 3-4, and at Minnesota, March 10-11. The Big Ten Tournament is set for March 16-18 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

IN THE BIG TEN: No. 1 Penn State will fall out of the top spot in the USCHO poll after Saturday’s stunning 6-3 home loss against No. 11 Ohio State. The Buckeyes (12-4-6, 3-2-1-1) broke a 3-3 tie with three unanswered goals in the third period to hand the Nittany Lions (16-3-2, 5-2-1-0) their third loss of the season. OSU and PSU tied 3-3 in Friday’s series opener, with the Buckeyes winning the shootout, 2-1, to earn two points in the conference standings, while the Nittany Lions get one.

No. 7 Minnesota (14-6-2, 6-2-0-0) saw its seven-game winning streak come to a halt Saturday when a 2-1 lead over Wisconsin (11-8-1, 4-2) disappeared midway through the second period as the Badgers scored five straight goals and went on to a 5-3 victory in Madison. The Gophers won Friday’s series opener, 4-3 in overtime.

With MSU and Michigan off next weekend, Wisconsin and Ohio State meet in a series in two different venues. The teams play at OSU on Thursday and then face off at Madison Square Garden in New York on Saturday as part of the second annual “Super Saturday – College Hoops & Hockey” doubleheader.

Wisconsin and Rutgers men’s basketball teams start Saturday with a Big Ten game at noon, followed by the Badgers and Buckeyes on the ice at 7 p.m.

Penn State and Minnesota are back in non-conference play next weekend.

The Nittany Lions play Princeton on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. The Gophers are involved in the annual North Star College Cup in St. Paul, Minn., with Minnesota facing Minnesota-Duluth on Friday and either St. Cloud State or Bemidji State on Saturday.

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