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Neil’s Notebook: Buckeyes Hold On For Win in Opener

Feb. 18, 2017

By Neil Koepke staff writer

EAST LANSING – Michigan State didn’t play a bad game on Friday night against Ohio State. The Spartans didn’t play a great game, either.

They just didn’t play well enough, especially in the third period, to turn a winnable game into a victory.

Tied 2-2 after two periods, the Buckeyes were opportunistic in the final period, scoring the only goal and killing off three MSU power plays.

In the end, No. 14 Ohio State held on for a 3-2 Big Ten victory in front of an announced crowd of 4,732 fans at Munn Arena.

“It was a pretty even game throughout. They made more plays than we did,” MSU coach Tom Anastos said. “Overall, I was pretty happy with our play. I didn’t like the finish. I didn’t like that we couldn’t generate any danger, and so that’s kind of stewing with me.’’

The Spartans had an excellent opportunity to tie the game with a power play with 1:46 left. MSU pulled goalie John Lethemon for a 6-on-4 edge and never got set up in the offensive zone and didn’t get a shot on goal. Michigan State (6-18-3 overall, 2-9-2-0 Big Ten) went 1-for-5 on the power play, with Villiam Haag scoring in the first period to lift the Spartans into a 2-2 tie.

“I didn’t like our power play. I know we got one goal but we just weren’t getting enough good looks and I didn’t think we made enough good decisions,” Anastos said.

The Buckeyes (15-8-6, 6-6-1-1) came into the game averaging 4.14 goals per game, so the Spartans did manage to do what Minnesota and Michigan couldn’t do in the last two weekends. The Gophers gave up 10 goals to OSU in a 5-4 loss and 6-5 win and the Wolverines allowed 10 in a 5-4 win and 6-5 loss.



The Spartans outshot Ohio State 36-25 but managed only six shots on goal in the third period.

“What’s really eating at me is that we had 74 attempts (shot at the net) and they had 45, and of our 74, we missed the net 28 times. That’s a huge number,’’ Anastos said. “Of their 45 attempts, they missed the net nine times.

“We’ve got to get better at finding a way to get pucks in play by just getting them on net. That’s been a frustration all season.’’

For a few seconds, the Spartans and their fans thought MSU had tied the game with 4:47 left in the third period.

Freshman center Sam Saliba, camped in front of the net, reached up and deflected sophomore right wing Mason Appleton’s high shot, and the puck deflected down and bounced into the net between the legs of OSU goalie Christian Fry.

But the referee quickly waived the goal off, ruling that Saliba touched the puck above the crossbar. The officials went to video review and the call on the ice stood.

“I knew the shot coming off Apps’ stick was pretty high so I just tried to get a stick on it. I knew it was 50-50,’’ Saliba said. “I was trying to bring (my stick) down but it felt high when I tipped it.

“I turned around and saw it go through his legs. I wish I could have sold it better. I’m not sure what they saw on the video.’’

The Buckeyes’ game-winning goal came on a legal tip, just four seconds after their power play expired in the first two minutes of the third period. Sophomore left wing John Wiitala, standing in front of the net, got a stick on Tanner Laczynski’s shot from the left circle and deflected it past Lethemon at 1:44.

“Their tip went in and counted and our tip didn’t,’’ Anastos said.

Dakota Joshua and Laczynski scored in the first period for OSU, which led 1-0 and 2-1.

Brennan Sanford tied it for the Spartans at 1-1 just 1 minute and 41 seconds after OSU opened the scoring. Haag’s power-play goal at 19:40 tied it 2-2.

After a scoreless second period, in which MSU outshot the visitors, 13-7, the Buckeyes won the execution battle in the third period and emerged with the victory.

“The only thing I didn’t like about the first period was that we gave up too many odd-man rushes, and they ended up scoring on that 2-on-1 (by Laczynski). I didn’t like that in our game,’’ Anastos said. “But if you look at the numbers, we limited their shots, we limited their quality shots and their shots off the rush, which they’re usually really dangerous at.‘’

While the Spartans held OSU’s top scorers – Nick Schilkey (22 goals) and Mason Jobst (14 goals) – in check, the Buckeyes did the same with MSU top offensive threats in Mason Appleton (10), Taro Hirose (6) and Patrick Khodorenko (6).

Appleton and Hirose each had two shots on goal. Khodorenko didn’t have any shots on goal.

“I wouldn’t say they weren’t engaged but I didn’t think they impacted the game enough,’’ Anastos said. “You need your best players to be your best players and I didn’t think they made a big enough impact tonight.’’

The Spartans will try salvage a series split when the teams meet again at 7 p.m. Saturday at Munn Arena. MSU and OSU will see each other again in two weeks with a series at Value City Arena in Columbus.

“We have to make key plays at key times and it starts with defending well,’’ Anastos said when asked about what it will take for the Spartans to rise up and win a close game like this one. “We have to limit quality scoring chances. “We did a decent job with our penalty killing, but I didn’t think our power play was good enough. For the most part, except for the end of the game, we entered the zone successfully, but I didn’t think we made good decisions with the puck to get it to the right spots.’’

MSU senior captain Joe Cox liked the way his team competed and worked in the first two periods but said that intensity and execution was missing in the final 20 minutes.

“We had a pretty good game but deviated from our game plan in the third period. We got a little selfish and didn’t execute,’’ Cox said. “We took a step back. We weren’t as intense and it didn’t seem like we wanted pucks as much.

“We had a good offensive roll going and kind of lost it. It was hard to get back on it in the third period.’’

Over the last four games, Ohio State was 10-for-20 on the power play – 3-for-6 and 4-for-7 against Michigan two weeks ago and 1-for-2 and 2-for-5 vs. Minnesota last weekend.

On Friday, Michigan State was aggressive and alert in holding off the Buckeyes’ power play, limiting OSU to one shot on three chances – one midway through the second period, one at the end of the second period and to start the third and one midway through the final period.

But OSU’s winning goal was scored just as a Spartan penalty expired, set up by the Buckeyes keeping the puck in the zone at the left point and making a good play with a shot and deflection to take the lead early in the third period.

“I thought we did a really good job on their power play. What they like to do is attack off the rush and we did a good job of making them dump the puck in and chase it and work to gain possession,’’ Cox said. “I thought our end zone play was great.’’

Unfortunately, Ohio State’s penalty killing, which has struggled in recent weeks, was very good as it held MSU to one goal and didn’t allow a shot on goal in three power plays in the third period.

The sixth-place Spartans, 2-3-2 in their last seven games, remain two points behind fifth-place Michigan, which lost at Wisconsin, 5-2. The fourth-place Buckeyes, 3-3-1 in their last seven, climbed within two points of third-place Penn State, which lost at home to first-place Minnesota, 6-3.

SANFORD SOLID: Freshman left wing Brennan Sanford, playing on a line with seniors Thomas Ebbing and Joe Cox, had a strong game Friday with a goal and assist, and he killed penalties, teaming with senior center Connor Wood.

Sanford scored his third goal of the season when pounced on Ebbing’s rebound and fired the puck past OSU goalie Christian Frey to tie the game 1-1 at 12:06 of the first period.

In the last minute of the second period and out on the power play, Sanford earned the second assist on Villiam Haag’s goal at 19:40, and was in front of the net screening Frey when Haag’s shot went off the left post and landed just over the goal line.

“In the last several games, I thought Sandy has done a good job creating good net-front presence,’’ Coach Tom Anastos said. “He’s done a good job going to the net, creating screens and has scored some nice goals. His confidence is growing.’’

Anastos said Sanford and Wood were used to kill penalties because he’s been trying to reduce the minutes of other penalty killers this late in the season.

“We’re trying to spread some minutes around so the same guys aren’t playing too many minutes,’’ Anastos said. “I think Sandy is grasping that responsibility. He and Woody both are doing a better and better job. They’re becoming more instinctive as opposed to being methodical.

“It’s really helpful to get more minutes from those guys.’’

Sanford actually started the play that ended with his goal that came 1 minute and 41 seconds after Ohio State had taken a 1-0 lead.

“I had the puck on the (left) boards and heard (Ebbing) call for the puck and I passed it over to him in the slot, but I passed it a little too hard and it banked off his stick,’’ Sanford said. “But Cox got it back to him (Ebbing) and he shot it.

“Good things happen when you put the puck on the net. I saw the puck and went to the net.’’

Sanford, a 6-foot-1, 211-pounder from East Lansing, has three goals and seven assists for a career-high 10 points in 27 games. Last season, he had five goals and four assists for nine points in 35 games.

INJURY UPDATE: Senior forward J.T. Stenglein’s season and college career is over after undergoing surgery on Wednesday for a sports hernia. Stenglein has missed the last six games due to the injury.

“It was a pretty significant tear. In practice, he couldn’t go anymore,’’ Coach Tom Anastos said. “I’m not sure how long it’s been bothering him but he wasn’t able to overcome it. He tried but it was too painful.’’

Stenglein had three goals and no assists in 15 games this season. He ends his four-year career with 14 goals and 16 assists for 30 points in 87 games. Last season, he had career highs of eight goals and 14 assists for 22 points in 34 games, and was tied for fourth with Mason Appleton in team scoring.

IN THE BIG TEN: All three Big Ten games on Friday were decided in the third period as first-place Minnesota, second-place Wisconsin and fourth-place Ohio State broke ties in the final 20 minute and went on to claim victories.

The Gophers’ Justin Kloos scored a power-play goal with six minutes left to break a 3-3 deadlock and No. 5 Minnesota (19-8-2 overall, 10-3 Big Ten) went to a 6-3 victory over the No. 8 Nittany Lions (18-7-2, 7-5-1-0) at Pegula Arena in University Park, Pa.

Penn State tied the game 3-3 on a goal by defenseman Kris Myllari at 10:25 of the third period. After Kloos’ goal, Minnesota sealed the victory on goals by Taylor Cammarata at 17:27 and Rem Pitlick (empty-net), with 1:26 left. Pitlick, a freshman, had three goals, one in each period for his first career hat trick, and assisted on Kloos’ game-winner.

Minnesota goalie Eric Schierhorn made 40 saves, while goalie Peyton Jones of Penn State stopped 25 shots. The Gophers are 3-0 against the Nittany Lions this season.

With the victory, the Gophers maintained their three-point lead over second-place Wisconsin.

Meanwhile, the No 20 Badgers scored three goals in the last 10 minutes of the third period as Wisconsin (16-10-1, 9-4-0-0) broke a 2-2 tie and cruised to a 5-2 victory over the Wolverines (9-15-3, 2-9-2-2).

Michigan’s Evan Allen tied the game 2-2 at 8:48 of the third period, but Wisconsin replied 1 minute and 35 seconds later on Trent Frederic’s even-strength goal to re-take the lead. The Badgers added goals by Jarod Zirbel at 17:43 and Seamus Malone at 18:01 for a three-goal victory.

Penn State and Minnesota and Michigan and Wisconsin close out their series on Saturday night.

SHUTOUT STREAK ENDS: Northern Michigan sophomore goalie Atte Tolvanen’s bid to set an NCAA record with his sixth consecutive shutout ended Friday when Minnesota State scored 3:26 into the first period, en route to a 5-3 WCHA victory over the Wildcats.

Tolvanen tied the NCAA record, set by former Lake Superior State goalie Blaine Lacher with five straight shutouts in 1994, last Saturday with a 2-0 win over Alaska.

Tolvanen’s shutout streak ended at 339 minutes and 5 seconds. Lacher holds the record for consecutive scoreless minutes at 375:01.

With the loss, Northern Michigan saw its nation-leading nine game (7-0-2) unbeaten streak come to an end.

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