Neil’s Notebook: Rosburg Leads Spartans in Win at No. 5 Notre Dame
Notes, quotes and analysis from Neil Koepke on Saturday's 4-3 win at Notre Dame.
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – Michigan State sophomore Jerad Rosburg is not known as an offensive-style defenseman. On Saturday night, however, he was pretty offensive.
Rosburg came into Saturday’s game against Notre Dame with no goals and eight assists. He left it as one of the Spartans’ offensive heroes.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder from Clarksville, Maryland, delivered one of his best games of his MSU career with the game-winning goal in the third period and two key assists to lead the Spartans to a 4-3 victory over the No. 5-ranked Irish and a split of the Big Ten regular-season series finale.
MSU heads into its first-round, best-of-three playoff series at Ohio State next weekend on a winning note, and close out February with a 3-4-1 record, earning a win or tie in each of the last four series.
In front of a sellout crowd of 5,174 at Lefty Smith Rink at the Compton Family Arena, Michigan State rallied from deficits of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 to tie the game three times.
Rosburg broke the 3-3 tie at 8:40 of the third period when his slap shot from the blue line in the middle of ice rocketed past Notre Dame standout goaltender Cale Morris.
MSU center Patrick Khodorenko won the faceoff in the right circle and sent the puck back to Rosburg, who found an open lane and his shot ended with his first goal of the season and fourth of his career.
“I knew I had time to wind up and take a slap shot so I got my head up to see where the shot-blocker was and was tried to put it wide of him and get it to the net,’’ Rosburg said. “I think it might have hit their defenseman’s stick and changed direction. I’m not really sure how it went in.’’
The Spartans (12-20-2 overall, 6-16-2-1 Big Ten) played solid defense the rest of the way to hand the Irish (23-9-2, 17-6-1) their fourth loss in the last five games.
Rosburg, who had five shots on goal, assisted on both freshman Mitchell Lewandowski’s two goals. Each time, Rosburg’s joined the rush and fired a shot on goal and Lewandowski fired in the rebound for his 18th and 19th goals of the season, the most of any freshman in the nation.
“It felt good to close that team out at the end. All around, it was a good team win,’’ Rosburg said. “I was just trying to get pucks on net the whole night and it’s great to see one finally go in and to contribute to the win.
“Whenever the puck started going up the ice, I tried to jump up into the play and help out offensively. When Lewie (Lewandowski) is on the ice and you get pucks to the net, good things happen.
“I thought I played well. I’m not sure I’d say it was best game ever but from a stats perspective, it was one of my best. It was good to contribute on offense and I look forward to keep trying to do that in the playoffs.’’
MSU coach Danton Cole said that when Rosburg is assertive, “he’s a heck of a hockey player.’’
“That’s the most assertive I’ve seen him, whether it was finishing checks or getting pucks in or putting pucks on the net,’’ Cole said. “He had two assists from hammering pucks on net. That’s good for him, and hopefully, he keeps building like the team.
“That’s what you like to see. You want to see guys haves some success and start believing in it.’’
MSU’s high-scoring KHL line, which was held pointless in Friday’s 6-3 loss in the series opener, got back on track Saturday as Khodorenko, Hirose and Lewandowski were on the ice for all four Spartan goals and teamed up for three goals and two assists.
Hirose tied the game 1-1 at 17:31 of the first period, tipping defenseman Carson Gatt’s slap shot from the blue line in the middle. Gatt stepped up to intercept a poor Notre Dame clearing and just kept the puck in at the blue line. He stopped it and quickly let go with his shot that Hirose deflected past Morris for his 12th goal of the season.
And, of course, Khodorenko’s faceoff win set up Rosburg’s game winner.
“I used to live in South Bend and skate at Notre Dame when I was a kid so playing back where I used to live was kind of cool,’’ Rosburg said. “I played min-mites here, probably when I was 3 to 5 years old, when my dad (Jerry) was a football coach at Notre Dame.
“I went to their hockey camps at Notre Dame at their old arena. Things have really changed around here.’’
Jerry Rosburg is the special teams coordinator/associate head coach for the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.
Rosburg’s goal was his first since his other three-point night – last season at North Dakota on Nov. 25, 2016. He scored two goals and had one assist in a 4-3 victory over the highly ranked Fighting Hawks.
Lewandowski now has six two-goal games as a rookie. He’s a lock to make the Big Ten All-Freshman Team and is probably the favorite to win the Freshman of the Year Award.
“That was a Lewie kind of goal,’’ Cole said of Lewandowski’s goal off Rosburg’s rebound that tied the game 2-2 in the second period. “It hits the goalie on the head or neck or throat and comes right down on his stick. He popped in a couple last week (against Penn State) and that’s good to see.
“That line worked a lot harder than they did last night. So, they were rewarded.’’
After going five games without a goal or point, Lewandowski has four goals and an assist in his last four games. His two-goal games have come against Lake Superior State (Oct. 28), Wisconsin (Nov. 11), Ferris State (Nov. 17), at Wisconsin (Jan. 13), Penn State (Feb. 16) and at Notre Dame.
“It’s pretty surreal. I never thought about all of this coming into the season,’’ Lewandowski said of his 19 goals and overall standout rookie season. “I can thank my linemates and teammates. It’s been pretty good.’’
Lewandowski has at least two games and possibly more to hit the 20-goal mark.
“That would be nice, really special,’’ he said. “But winning as a team is more important. It doesn’t matter if I score another goal, I just want us to keep winning.’’
Lewandowski said his first goal came after a turnover and he just took off with the puck, heading for the Notre Dame zone.
“I pulled up, hit Rosburg (with a pass) and just found myself at the net, and a lucky bounce came my way,’’ he said. “I think it hit the goalie in the head. I’ve never seen a shot go off a goalie’s head and go back on the ice for a backdoor (play) for someone.’’
The Spartans started the third period on a power play but instead of capitalizing, Notre Dame came down on a rush that ended up as a shorthanded goal 42 seconds into the period to give the Irish a 3-2 lead.
Jack Jenkins’ shot from the slot went off the crossbar or post, and with MSU goalie John Lethemon moving to his left and away from the crease, the puck bounced free into slot. Defenseman Dennis Gilbert raced in and easily hit the empty net.
Less than three minutes later, MSU tied it with the Lewandowski-Rosburg duo teaming up again.
“It was a good play by Taro to get out of the zone fast, then Rosburg jumped into the play and we had four up (on the rush),’’ Lewandowski said. “Rosburg took the shot and I really couldn’t tell what happened, but the puck bobbled up in the air and I tried to hit it out of the air. I looked behind the goalie and the puck was sitting there.’’
So, Lewandowski tapped it in for his 19th goal and 33rd point of the season.
“That’s a really good team win. We got off to a pretty good start and it was a fun game,’’ Lewandowski said. “Notre Dame builds off momentum. It was their Senior Night and they had lots of energy. So, when they take the lead, you have to take them down as soon as you can, and we did a good job with that tonight.’’
For the second straight game, MSU outshot Notre Dame, 36-26 on Saturday, including 18-8 in the second period. On Friday, the Spartans held a 38-33 edge in shots.
MSU goalie John Lethemon was sharp and made a few big saves, especially late in the game when the Irish applied pressure in the Spartan zone. Pucks were bouncing all over the place, shots were going wide and the danger didn’t end until last seconds ticked off the clock.
All in all, the Spartans did an excellent job of defending the lead late. They played with poise, made smart decisions under pressure and they survived and got rewarded with a victory.
“There were pucks flying around at the end. It seemed at times like there were two pucks on the ice,’’ Cole said. “Pucks were bouncing around, hitting skates. But the guys did a good job.
“We got pucks out and didn’t ice it 15 times like we did last weekend against Penn State,’’ Cole added, with a laugh.
STRONG BOUNCE BACK: The Spartans showed that the way they played in part of Friday’s 6-3 loss was an aberration, as they rebounded with a strong performance, showing vast improvement in most of the areas they struggled with in the series opener.
MSU has been involved in one close game after another from mid-January through February, and it was back to that on Saturday, in a game decided in the third period. The Spartans’ execution was a shade better than that of the No. 5-ranked Fighting Irish.
“We were much better tonight. This was much more normal for us than on Friday,’’ Coach Danton Cole said. “We did some things really well in Friday’s game, but we got away from some of the other things that we do well. We didn’t backcheck well, we didn’t close out in the defensive zone and recover well. We turned pucks over and it cost us.
“But some things, we did well in that game. We had 38 shots on goal on Friday and 36 tonight, against one of the best defensive teams in the country and maybe a Hobey Baker winner in net (Cale Morris).
Michigan State blocked 21 shots, led by senior defenseman Carson Gatt with six. Defenseman Jerad Rosburg was not only good at shooting the puck – with a goal and two shots on goal that led to assists, he also did well in blocking Irish scoring attempts. He blocked four shots.
Defenseman Zack Osburn, who was dangerous offensively for the second straight game with four shots on goal, blocked three shots.
“It was a gutsy win. We were down 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 and the guys kept going,’’ Cole said. “They did a nice job on the bench. We’ve improved a lot in that area. We didn’t let things get away from us.
“Regardless of what happened on Friday, the guys learned some things and built off that.’’
DEFENSE CHIPS IN: Michigan State scored four goals on Saturday and defensemen impacted each one. Spartan defensemen contributed mightily to the 4-3 victory by contributing one goal and four assists.
Carson Gatt’s shot from the point set up MSU’s first goal, which was tipped in by Taro Hirose. Mitch Lewandowski’s second-period goal came off a rebound after a shot by Jerad Rosburg, with defenseman Butrus Ghafari earning the second assist.
Another Rosburg shot led to Lewandowski’s third-period goal, and then Rosburg’s shot 5 minutes and 30 seconds latter found its way into the net for the game-winner.
“They’re more comfortable and moving better back there and they’re getting to the right spots and doing a good job,’’ Coach Danton Cole said of his defensive corps. “When (the play) is not there, they’re zipping it down low. It’s being smart and quick. It’s a good combination.’’
HIROSE FOURTH IN BIG TEN SCORING: MSU sophomore left wing Taro Hirose finished fourth in Big Ten conference game scoring with eight goals and 16 assists for 24 points in 24 games. Cooper Marody of Michigan won the scoring title with six goals and 27 points, while Mason Jobst of Ohio State was second with 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists). Tanner Laczynski, also a Buckeye, was third with 25 points (9-16).
However, in overall scoring (conference and non-conference games), Hirose is tied for second with Laczynski with 39 points. Hirose has 12 goals and 27 assists. Laczynski has 14 goals and 25 assists. Marody leads in overall scoring with 12 goals and 29 assists for 41 points.
MSU’s Mitchell Lewandowski is the highest-scoring freshman in conference games (13-5-18) and non-conference play (19-14-33). Lewandowski and Michigan’s Tony Calderone lead the Big Ten in goals in overall games with 19. Calderone is tops in conference game with 14, while Lewandowski and Jobst are tied for second with 13 goals apiece.
Lewandowski’s 19 goals are the most by any freshman nationally.
UP NEXT: Michigan State heads back to Columbus, where it played just a month ago, to face Ohio State in the first round of the Big Ten playoffs. The seventh-place Spartans and second-place Buckeyes will meet at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and if necessary, on Sunday at Value City Arena.
MSU and OSU split their last series with the Buckeyes winning the opener, 4-2, and the Spartans rebounding for a 6-3 win in the series finale.
In the first meeting between the teams, Ohio State swept MSU, 4-1 and 5-3 at Munn Arena, Jan. 5-6.
Coach Danton Cole said preparation for the playoff series began this week with the challenge against Notre Dame.
“We were kind addressing (Saturday’s) game like a playoff game in terms of our prep,’’ he said. “We want to be back here two weeks from tonight (to face the Irish in the conference semifinals), and it’s going to be this type of game and atmosphere. So, we said let’s play it that way.
“There were jitters tonight early. We wanted to set this weekend up as a playoff weekend. If we lose the first game in a best-of-three, we have to come back and win this game.
“The guys battled through it, handled it and now we move on. We should be loose and confident, but Ohio State is a heck of a team and it’s going to be a tough series.’’
The Buckeyes (21-8-5, 14-8-2-1) finished their regular season with a sweep of Wisconsin, 6-2 and 4-0. Since getting beat by the Spartans on Feb. 3, Ohio State is 3-2-1. Since Jan. 1, the Buckeyes are 9-4-1.
IN THE BIG TEN: In the battle for a home ice in for the first round of the playoffs, Penn State defeated Minnesota 5-2 in University Park, Pa., completing a sweep of their weekend series and finishing the regular season in fourth place.
The Nittany Lions won the series opener, 5-1.
Minnesota flew back to Minneapolis late Saturday and will return to Penn State on Thursday to again face the Nittany Lions, this time in a best-of-three playoff series.
Nine days ago, after losing to MSU, 4-2, Penn State was winless in its last eight games (0-6-2). But the Nittany Lions have suddenly won three games in a row and climbed from sixth place to fourth place and are at home for the start of the playoffs.
In the other conference game Saturday, Ohio State completed a sweep of Wisconsin with a 4-0 victory in Columbus. On Friday, the Buckeyes rallied from a 2-1 deficit after two periods and erupted for five goals in the third period and cruised to a 6-2 victory.
The Badgers, who have lost four straight, will face third-place Michigan in the playoffs.
The Wolverines, meanwhile, finished their regular season with a non-conference sweep of Arizona State, winning 5-3 on Saturday after winning by the same score on Friday.