Jan. 24, 2014
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
DETROIT - There have been quite a few games this season when Michigan State has had a difficult time creating quality scoring chances.
But Thursday's game against No. 13 Michigan wasn't one of them.
The Spartans had plenty of great opportunities to score goals, but a lack of a finishing touch was the difference between winning and losing in a spirited, entertaining Big Ten series opener at Joe Louis Arena.
MSU had good chances in each period but managed to beat U-M goalie Zach Nagelvoort just one time as the Wolverines edged the Spartans 2-1 on Phil Di Giuseppe's rebound goal from the edge of the crease with 2:18 left in the third period.
The Spartans (8-11-3 overall, 2-3-2-2 Big Ten) had 33 shots on goal and created chances with solid rushes and by forcing several turnovers in the neutral zone. A few turned into odd-man rushes.
It made for a frustrating game for MSU, especially for the seniors like Greg Wolfe, Lee Reimer, Dean Chelios and Jake Chelios, all of whom were playing their last game at JLA and were in a good position to win.
Dean Chelios and most everyone in the arena thought he scored 23 seconds after the opening faceoff when he found a loose puck under Nagelvoort and shot in his own rebound. But the referee lost sight of the puck and blew the play dead just as Chelios was firing the puck into the net.
Meanwhile, MSU goaltender Jake Hildebrand had an outstanding game with 34 saves. He made several excellent saves and, like Nagelvoort, he had his share of good puck luck. The Wolverines hit the left post in the first period and just missed several good scoring opportunities from around the crease.
"It was a good game but a tough one to lose,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "I liked how hard we played all game, but we've got to get over the hump and finish. We had some really good scoring chances but we just didn't finish."
"The combination of giving second and third chances cost us goals.''
Both Wolverine goals - by JT Compher in the second period and Di Giuseppe at the end - were scored off scrambles in the crease, tough bounces and MSU's failure to clear the area in front of the net.
MSU worked hard to create good chances throughout the game. Mackenzie MacEachern, Michael Ferrantino and Matt Berry had good looks to score in the opening period. Villiam Haag was in position to score twice in the second period - off MacEachern's rebound, he shot wide to the right, and on a 2-on-1 rush, his shot to the low corner was stopped by Navelvoort's right pad with 3:28 to go. Berry's point-blank shot from the left slot with 5:20 left in the middle period was stopped by Nagelvoort.
MSU trailed 1-0 entering the third period had a few good chances on a power play before Ferrantino tied it 1-1 at on a deflection of linemate Joe Cox's long-reach chip from the left circle at 6:08.
The play started with Ferrantino winning a faceoff in the left circle and Cox getting the puck back to defenseman Rhett Holland at the point in the middle. Holland's shot hit off the skate of U-M defenseman Mike Downing and caromed out to Cox in the left circle.
Another power play around the 10-minute mark produced two MSU shots on Nagelvoort. With less than four minutes to go and the game still deadlocked, MacEachern and Ebbing went in on a 2-on-1 but came up empty when MacEachern's shot from the left circle was stopped by Nagelvoort.
Brett Darnell led the Spartans with five shots on goal. Greg Wolfe, MacEachern, Haag and Berry each had four.
"It was tough. We were in it right till the end,'' Ferrantino said. "We were playing pretty good hockey and so were they. It was really an exciting game for the fans. But it's tough to give one up late in the game. Now we focus on tomorrow and going back to playing stronger at home.''
The Spartans and Wolverines will meet in the second game of the series at 6 p.m. on Friday at Munn Arena. With MSU winning 3-0 in the GLI third-place game at Comerica Park last month, the overall series between the rivals is 1-1.
"I thought as the game went on, we got harder to play against,'' Ferrantino said. "We were finishing checks and getting more pucks behind their defense and to the net. "They're a team that likes to make plays and with that comes turnovers. We knew if we could forecheck and pressure their d-men, there would be plays there that we could take advantage.''
For sure, the Spartans did, creating chances off turnovers. But the finishing touch wasn't there.
"That was a fast game. We created turnovers, good chances and defended pretty well,'' Anastos said. "But it's been the story of our season that our margin for error is thin, especially when you're not scoring goals.
"I liked the scoring chances - we had quality ones. We just have to learn how to finish them.''
On Di Giuseppe's game-winning goal, the Spartans gave up three shots from close in and the third got past Hildebrand.
The bizarre play started when U-M's leading scorer, Andrew Copp, sent the puck back to the left point to defenseman Nolan De Jong, who let go with shot that caromed off U-M defenseman Rhett Holland and slid in front. The puck went between the legs of MSU defenseman RJ Boyd. Copp raced in, got the puck and backhanded it toward the left corner of the net as he was knocked to the ice by Boyd.
Hildebrand made a spectacular right pad save with the puck deflecting back under a pileup of players to the right of the net. But it came loose and Di Giuseppe got off a backhand shot was stopped by the sprawling Hildebrand's stick.
The puck came loose again and Di Giuseppe had enough room to go to his forehand and flip the puck up in a jam-up of sticks and it caught the top of the net.
"I think that's how every goal went in tonight,'' Hildebrand said. "The puck was bouncing around and took some good bounces that went their way.
"One of their shots (on the winner) hit my pad, another hit my stick and bounced out on their guy's stick and he buried it.''
Hildebrand said the Spartans liked how they were playing for two periods and had a good mindset coming out for the third period.
"We knew all we needed was that first one and we'd get going,'' he said. "We got it and our bench was jumping. I thought we were going to get another one. It's a tough ending.''
IT'S A GOAL ... NO IT'S NOT: The Spartans got hurt by some bounces at the end and a tough call at the start of the game. Greg Wolfe's long shot from the right boards hit U-M goaltender Zack Nagelvoort in the crease and puck got underneath him and came loose as he fell in the crease.
MSU senior left wing Dean Chelios swooped in and tapped the puck toward the net, but it hit Nagelvoort and came loose again. Chelios followed through and fired it into the net. But the referee, watching from the right corner, blew his whistle just before the puck went in.
"To have one on the first shift, it's rough call because it's not like I dug it out of him,'' Chelios said. " It bounced off of him when he fell down. The ref was in a spot where he couldn't see it.
"I knew the puck was laying there and I got a shot it, and the goalie made a great save and that's when the whistle blew, as I put in the rebound. I could see right away that his angle was from behind the goalie and he couldn't see it.
"I argued but he said he lost sight of it, and that happens sometimes.'' MSU coach Tom Anastos didn't like the call but understood it.
"He got caught in the corner so he's a long way away and your field of vision isn't as good,'' Anastos said. "Officials are instructed to blow the whistle when they lose sight of the puck. It was just a bad brake for us.''
MICHIGAN VIEW: The Wolverines ended a four-game losing streak and five-game winless streak with the victory over MSU.
Coach Red Berenson like what he saw from goaltender Zach Nagelvoort, his team's defensive zone coverage and ability to battle for rebounds in and around the crease. "They weren't giving us much time with the puck. Every time we got good scoring chances, they got a stick on us or a body on us. There wasn't time to handle the puck. You just had to get it on net, and if there was a rebound, you had to battle through someone to get there.
"That's kind of how the winning goal was scored.''
Like Spartan coach Tom Anastos, Berenson liked the tempo and style of play.
"There were a lot of rushes and turnovers and outnumbered rushes and just-about goals. It was typical Michigan-Michigan State,'' he said. "Once it broke open, it was exciting hockey.''
THE CROWD: SMALL, NOISY: On a cold, Thursday night in Detroit, the Spartans and Wolverines drew an announced crowd of 8,124, the smallest gathering every to watch these teams play at Joe Louis Arena.
After what seemed like a sleepy crowd early in the game, the fans perked up, especially late in the first period when play opened up and it was more of an up-and-down type of game, and it continued through the last two periods. Spartan fans were noisy and provided good support in a game in which goals were few but scoring opportunities and great saves were plentiful.
"Our fans were unbelievable. We heard the `go green, go white' and `let's go state' chants,'' sophomore forward Michael Ferrantino said. "I didn't hear many `Go Blue' chants. Our support was great.''
The previous low attendance for a Spartan-Wolverine game at JLA was 10,407 on Dec. 27, 1980, a 3-2 Michigan win in the semifinals of the Great Lakes Invitational. MSU's lowest crowd at Joe Louis Arena was 3,436 in the 1995 CCHA quarterfinals - a 5-0 Spartan victory over Nebraska-Omaha on March 17, 1995.