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Neil’s Notebook: Back-and-Forth Battle Ends in OT Loss

Feb. 5, 2017

By Neil Koepke staff writer

EAST LANSING – Michigan State rebounded from Friday’s turnover-filled 6-3 loss to Wisconsin with a strong, highly competitive and feisty performance in Saturday’s series finale.

The Spartans had one of their best first periods of the season, and fought through some adversity to overcome a 1-0 deficit. They earned a 2-1 lead in the second period, only to lose it in the third period and then rallied late to tie the game 3-3 and send it into overtime.

But the Spartans’ old bugaboo – a turnover – spoiled the night as the Badgers capitalized 1:34 into overtime to hand Michigan State a heartbreaking 4-3 defeat in front of 5,284 fans at Munn Arena. In a highly entertaining game which had a little bit of everything – highlight reel goals, a confusing, disputed disallowed goal, rallies by both teams, big saves by the goalies, and even a skirmish in which punches were thrown and one player ejected – the Spartans did a lot of things well and were in position to come away with a victory.

But not much is going MSU’s way this year and Wisconsin is on a roll, getting good bounces and finding ways to pull out victories.

Defenseman Jake Linhart capped a 3-on-1 rush with a perfect shot from that slot that beat MSU freshman goalie John Lethemon to give the Badgers a sweep of the Big Ten series and extend their winning streak to five games.

For Michigan State, it was a frustrating ending to game which it held a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes and had outplayed the visitors.

“The biggest difference in the game (from Friday) was that we managed the puck better tonight. We played more like what our objective is in how we play,” MSU coach Tom Anastos said. “On Friday, we let the game get away from us too easily because we made big turnovers.



“We managed the puck pretty well tonight until the last shift of the game. That cost us the game. We seem to shoot ourselves in the foot. That’s becoming tiresome and frustrating.’’

Wisconsin (15-8-1, 8-2-0-0 Big Ten) put on a good push in the first 11 minutes of the third period and scored two goals to take a 3-2 lead. The Spartans battled back and tied it on Brennan Sanford’s goal from the edge of the crease with 1:07 left in the period and Lethemon off for a sixth attacker.

The Spartans (5-17-2, 1-8-1-0) controlled the first minute of overtime and had a couple of good scoring chances. Villiam Haag’s high shot was gloved by Wisconsin goalie Matt Jurusik, and defenseman Zach Osburn had a point-blank shot from the slot that found Jurusik’s glove instead the back of the net.

When the Badgers finally cleared their zone, they took advantage of a turnover in the neutral zone by MSU redshirt freshman defenseman Jerad Rosburg, and it led to an odd-man rush and the game-winner by Linhart.

Rosburg got the puck at center ice, sidestepped a Badger but had another defender in front of him and one to his side. Instead of playing the puck to his right and safely into the Wisconsin zone, he appeared to go to his backhand to make a play, and the Badgers’ Seamus Malone knocked the puck loose, gained control in the neutral zone and stormed into the MSU zone.

He created a 3-on-1 break with two Spartans chasing the play. Malone passed the puck to his left to Will Johnson, whose quick backhand shot was stopped by Lethemon, with the puck bouncing behind the net

The puck popped into air to Malone behind the net to the right. He centered the puck to Linhart in the right circle near the slot and the junior defenseman hit the left corner to win it for the Badgers.

“In football, you punt sometimes. Here, you’re not always going to be able to make a direct play,’’ Anastos said. “Sometimes there’s going to be indirect plays and you have to make a territorial play to make a line change or keep them on their heels and make them go 200 feet.

“We held the puck too long and it gets tipped away and they get the odd-man rush. That’s the neutral zone play that’s been a huge point of emphasis for us.’’

Lethemon, who played the second and third periods in Friday’s 6-3 defeat, made 24 saves, while Jurusik stopped 28 shots, including 16 in the first period.

Neither team scored on the power play. MSU was 0-for-4 officially, with five shots on goal, although one power play lasted only nine seconds. Wisconsin was 0-for-5 with four shots on goal.

“I thought our penalty killing took a big step this weekend,’’ Anastos said.

Defensemen Rhett Holland, Joe Cox and Sanford scored for the Spartans. Luke Kunin, Trent Frederic, Cameron Hughes and Linhart connected for the Badgers.

Sanford, a freshman left wing from East Lansing, actually put the puck in the net twice but the first time the goal was disallowed at 17:56 in the first period. With a delayed penalty coming up on Wisconsin, the puck came loose in front of the net and Sanford, 15 feet out on the right and Jurusik out of position, slid the puck under sprawling Badgers defenseman Peter Tischke.

It clearly entered the net and referee Kevin Langseth pointed to the net, signaling a goal. But after a conference with the other officials, he ruled no goal.

“He said he blew the play dead because he saw the puck was covered,’’ Anastos said. “He thought (Tischke) covered the puck, which he never did. The puck went in the net. So, because he ruled the play dead, it’s not reviewable.’’

Of course, if Tischke did cover the puck in the crease, it should have been a penalty shot.

Cox, the Spartans captain, thought the referee’s interpretation was that a delayed penalty was coming up on Wisconsin and when the puck grazed Tischke, that warranted the play to be blown dead, like a defender touching the puck.

But is that possession?

“I think, honestly, that was ridiculous,’’ Cox said.

Instead of a 1-0 lead, it was still 0-0 with MSU on the power play. A few seconds later, the puck came out to the right point and Spartan defenseman Zach Osburn thought he kept it from getting over the blue line, but the linesman whistled the play down for offside.

After the faceoff outside the Wisconsin blue line, Frederick flipped the puck toward Osburn, but Kunin tapped it away and raced down the left wing and then into the middle on a breakaway. He went in tight and beat Lethemon with a shorthanded goal at 18:09.

So, the Spartans had played one of their best first periods of the season and came away with a 1-0 deficit and confused over the called-back goal. That pretty sums up the 2016-17 season for MSU.

“I’m sitting in the coaches’ room scratching my head, thinking I thought we played pretty much as well as we’ve played, and had some great opportunities and now we’re sitting here down one goal,’’ Anastos said.

“We played a really good first period and then you have a call that doesn’t go your way. But we rebounded from that pretty well in the second period.

“We had a pretty decent second period. And that’s a pretty good team. They have a lot of depth and their goals were scored by their playmakers. We executed our game plan against a good team and that’s why the game was close.’’

MSU outscored the visitors 2-0 in the middle period.

The tying goal set off a skirmish which hasn’t been seen in Munn Arena in a long time. Holland scored at 8:13 and Wisconsin lost a key defenseman – JD Greenway – for fighting.

With each team one man short, MSU’s Carson Gatt and Mason Appleton sped into the offensive zone on a 2-on-2 rush that turned into a 2-on-1. Appleton took Gatt’s pass in the slot, moved toward the edge of the crease, but his shot was stopped by Jurusik and an off-balance Appleton fell and slid behind the net.

Holland seemed to come out of nowhere and crashed the crease, jammed his stick toward Jurusik’s pads and knocked the puck into the net. This time, Referee Pochmara signaled that it was a goal.

Meanwhile, a lot of pushing and shoving broke out in the crease and later at the side of the net involving Holland, Gatt, Appleton and Logan Lambdin and the Badgers’ Greenway, Corbin McGuire, Cameron Hughes and Will Johnson.

Greenway ended up throwing several punches at Gatt, while Appleton jousted with Hughes and ended up on top of him.

The only penalties assessed were to Greenway – five minutes for fighting and a game disqualification – and to Appleton – two minutes for roughing.

Of course, the referees reviewed the goal, only this time it went in favor of Michigan State. The goal was Holland’s first of the season and second of his career.

Appleton said a skirmish breaking out after a goal was nothing new to him.

“I been in a couple of those. I’ve scored some goals and ran the goalie and it turned into a little brawl,’’ said Appleton, who spent one season in the U.S. Hockey League, where fighting is common and only involves a major penalty and not an ejection.

“You could fight in that league so this is a little different.’’

Appleton said he came free in the middle, took the pass from Gatt and “made an initial deke but the goalie got his pad on it and the puck kind of just laid there.

“The goalie had no clue where it was and Rhett, who was filling the high lane, saw the puck and jumped on it and jammed it in. He got pushed into their goalie and they were pushing him. Everybody started wrestling with someone.’’

When play resumed, the teams played a brief spell of 3-on-3 hockey, something you rarely see in college hockey.

There was a lot of open space and a few odd-man rushes. Lethemon made a big save on quick break-in by the Badgers’ Grant Besse, who tried to slide the puck between Lethemon’s legs.

Late in the period, the Spartans finally scored on a play that didn’t have to be reviewed. Cox scored a bit of a spectacular goal at 15:51 to give MSU a 2-1 lead.

Cox, coming down the right wing in the Wisconsin zone, tried to pass to Patrick Khodorenko on the left. But the puck hit a Badger defender and bounced back to Cox. He sidestepped a defenseman and went in close and went to his backhand to slide the puck into the left corner.

“I knew I had to go to my left. I just threw it toward the net,’’ Cox said. “I was on my knees. It was kind of prayer.’’

Wisconsin tied it 2-2 on Frederic’s goal from the slot at 6:55 and took a 3-2 lead when Hughes deflected McGuire’s shot from the right boards past Lethemon at 11:05.

The Spartans battled right to the end, and with 1:17 left, Lethemon was lifted for a sixth skater, and it finally paid off, instead of the opposition putting the puck into the empty net.

MSU worked hard to maintain possession in the offensive zone, and Rosburg got the puck at the left point. His shot or pass down low from the point got deflected into the left corner. Khodorenko retrieved it, and with both Wisconsin defenseman near the goal line, he quickly sent it out front to a wide-open Sanford, who one-timed it past a stunned Jurusik at 18:53.

“It was a desperation play. We got it deep and I went to the net and (Khodorenko) threw it out front and I got a little puck luck tonight, although the first one didn’t count,’’ Sanford said.

“We had everyone going hard. We had a lot more energy. In the third period, it kind of got away from us. But we never gave up and worked hard to tie it up.’’

Then came the overtime and another frustrating ending for the Spartans.

“This game reminded me of our game at Penn State, the second night where we had a 2-1 lead in the third period and had liked our game a lot,’’ Appleton said. “But like in a lot of our games, just those little mistakes come back to bite us. It’s turning pucks over and making errors like that.’’

FIRST START SINCE DECEMBER: Freshman goalie John Lethemon got the start on Saturday because Coach Tom Anastos saw his game improving in practice and his confidence growing.

Plus, Lethemon didn’t get a lot of help from teammates in two periods of work on Friday after replacing Ed Minney after the first period and MSU down 3-0.

“I thought he looked confident. When a goalie is confident, he’s getting out of the net and challenging shooters and tracking the puck well,’’ Anastos said. “He’s had a good couple of weeks of practice and you could see his confidence growing.’’

Lethemon was making his fifth career start and first since the Great Lakes Invitational’s third-place game – a 5-4 overtime loss vs. Michigan. He made 30 saves in that game.

“Ed Minney was hurt since the Michigan game and while we felt he was 100 percent, and that was why he started Friday, he had only practiced for maybe a day-and-a-half. He didn’t get a lot of reps.

“John didn’t get a fair shake on Friday. We made it tough on him. He faced a couple of point-blank shots right out of the gate. He deserved to play and I thought he played well tonight.

“He played a solid game and deserved a better fate.’’

HIROSE SITS OUT: Freshman left wing Taro Hirose, MSU’s second-leading scorer (4 goals, 12 assists, 16 points) missed Saturday’s game due to a one-game suspension by the Big Ten for a kneeing penalty he took in the first period of Friday.

He was given a five-minute major and game misconduct for a knee-to-knee hit on Wisconsin defenseman Tim Davison near the MSU blue line. The Big Ten reviewed the play and issued supplemental disciple on Saturday afternoon.

Davison suffered an undisclosed knee injury and missed the rest of Friday’s game and did not play on Saturday.

“You can see what he means to us on our power play. He brings a calming influence,’’ Anastos said of Hirose. “He’s critical in bringing the puck up the ice and making good decisions with it. He settles things down in the zone.’’

DEBUT FOR SELEP: With Taro Hirose out with his suspension, MSU altered its lines and there was a need for another forward to be in the lineup. So, Coach Tom Anastos decided to give Justin Selep, a graduate transfer from NCAA Division III Suffolk University in Massachusetts, his first chance to play for the Spartans.

Selep, 24, a 6-foot-1, 206-pound left-hand shot forward from Upper St. Clair, Pa., played left wing on the fourth line with senior center Connor Wood and junior Dylan Pavelek on right wing.

“I thought it was an opportunity to try something on that line, and I thought he did a good job. He almost scored on his first shift,’’ Anastos said. “He’s a player with a good hockey IQ. He’s a smart player, and if you watched how he plays, he made simple plays. He was smart about it.

“He has kind of a nose for the net. We wondered how the pace would affect him because he hasn’t played.’’

Selep is the first Spartan hockey player to be enrolled in the MSU College of Law while a member of the team. Selep came to MSU with one season of eligibility after graduating from Suffolk University last spring.

He played two years at Suffolk after a two-year stay at Nazareth College in New York. Last season, he was named team MVP and second-team all-conference after leading the Rams in scoring with 28 points (17 goals, 11 assists).

Selep last season was named the Suffolk University student-athlete of the year and voted to the ECAC Northeast All-Academic Team.

UP NEXT: It’s rivalry week again for the Spartans as they face Michigan (9-13-2, 2-7-1-1) next weekend for the fourth and fifth times this season. The teams meet at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit and at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at Yost Arena in Ann Arbor.

MSU blanked the Wolverines 3-0 at Yost Arena on Jan. 20 and the teams played to a 2-2 tie at Munn Arena on Jan. 21, with U-M winning the shootout to claim the extra point in the Big Ten standings.

The teams are 1-1-1 in three meetings. Michigan won the first matchup, winning 5-4 in overtime in the third-place game in the GLI in Detroit in December.

The Wolverines are in fifth place in the Big Ten with eight points, four ahead of the Spartans.

IN THE BIG TEN: Minnesota remained tied with Wisconsin for first place with a 5-2 victory and series sweep over slumping Penn State on Saturday in Minneapolis. The No. 7 Gophers (17-7-2, 8-2-0-0), who won 5-1 on Friday, overcame a 2-1 deficit by scoring two goals within 1 minute and 14 seconds midway through the second period. Minnesota added a late second-period goal to go up 4-2 and another early in the third period.

Leon Bristedt, a 5-foot-8, 185-pound junior forward from Stockholm, Sweden, scored three goals, including the last two for the Gophers.

Minnesota has won three in a row and 10 of its last 12 games. No. 6 Penn State has lost four games in a row and is 0-4-1 in its last five.

Meanwhile, No. 11 Ohio State and Michigan continue to be involved in high-scoring, wide open games, with each winning one this weekend in Ann Arbor. Each team scored 10 goals.

The Buckeyes rebounded from Friday’s 5-4 loss with a come-from-behind 6-5 victory on Saturday to earn the split. OSU trailed 4-2 and 5-3 and then scored three consecutive goals, one late in the second period and two in the third to pull out the victory.

Ohio State standout forward Nick Schilkey broke a 5-5 deadlock with his 20th goal of the season with 30 seconds left in the third period. Schilkey just returned to the lineup this weekend after missing the last four games with an injury.

Before Saturday, the Buckeyes (13-7-6, 4-5-1-1) had lost three straight games, two against Wisconsin and the series opener with U-M.

In their last six meetings, Ohio State and Michigan have combined for 66 goals for an average of 11 per game. Last season, the teams played to a 5-5 tie and U-M won 8-6 in their first series. Then the Buckeyes swept Michigan, 7-4 and 6-5 in overtime.

Ohio State has scored 34 goals in the last six games against Michigan for an average of 5.67 per game. The Wolverines have scored 32 for a 5.33 average.

All in all, that series is a nightmare for goalies.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin and Minnesota remain tied for first place, each with 8-2-0-0 Big Ten records and 24 points. Penn State has slipped to third with 16 points, one ahead of Ohio State, which has 15, seven points in front of U-M.

Every team in the conference has played 10 games and has 10 games left.

In addition to the Michigan State-Michigan series next weekend, Penn State is back on the road at Wisconsin and Minnesota visits Ohio State.

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