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Neil's Notebook: Spartans Rally, But Come Up Short in Exhibition

Mike Ferrantino

March 2, 2014

By Neil Koepke staff writer

EAST LANSING - It was a bad news, good news type of night for Michigan State on Saturday against the best team of 17-year-old hockey players in the nation. The Spartans fell behind 3-0 just past the midway point in the second period, which was bad. It looked like a blowout might be imminent.

But MSU rallied with two quick goals in the second period and one with seven minutes left in the third period to the tie the game 3-3, which was very good news. In addition, the Spartans played very well in the second and third periods, another positive.

But the U.S. National Team Development Program's U-18 team showed its high level of skill as standout center Jack Eichel made a great shot at 2:12 of overtime to give the Ann Arbor-based program a 4-3 victory over the Spartans at Munn Arena. The good news? The MSU-USA matchup was an exhibition game and doesn't count in the Spartans' overall record.

More good news: MSU scored three goals, which is more than it has in the last 10 games. The Spartans also scored a power-play goal (by Michael Ferrantino in the second period) and a shorthanded goal (by Lee Reimer in the third). More bad news: MSU gave up two power-play goals.

Meanwhile, the Spartans and their fans got a look at a future MSU goaltender in the U-18's Edwin Minney, who signed a scholarship letter-of-intent last fall and will become a Spartan this summer.

Minney had a solid night with 20 saves, including an excellent reaction save on MSU sophomore Matt DeBlouw early in the first period.

"Other than the first period, I was OK with the other parts of the game,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "They're a very good team - lots of skill, lots of speed and lots of intelligence.



"They're a fun team to watch and play against. They play with lots of pace. The pace they played with in the first period was as fast as any team we've played all season, including Minnesota.''

In the end, the Spartans turned a one-sided game into a fast-paced game, competitive, entertaining game thanks to a strong comeback that started less than a minute after the U-18s took a 3-0 lead.

Joe Cox's goal at 13:19 - 50 seconds after the Spartans went down by three goals - and Ferrantino's power-play goal at 15:19 boosted the Spartans back into the game.

They competed hard in the third and it finally paid off as Reimer's shorthanded goal off a wicked slap shot from the left circle tied it at three goals apiece. Freshman left wing Villiam Haag had two assists, setting up the Spartans' first two goals. Eichel spoiled MSU's hopes for an overtime victory when he scored his second goal of the game in overtime, with a perfect shot from the top of the right circle that eluded MSU goalie Jake Hildebrand.

Eichel, who doesn't turn 18 until October and will play at Boston University next season, is expected to be a top five pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Both of Eichel's goals came off perfect passes from linemate Sonny Milano, and Eichel assisted on Milano's power-play goal in the opening period.

"We didn't have a great start. They came out flying and over the course of the game, we matched their intensity and kind of took over the play and tied it,'' said MSU senior right wing and captain Greg Wolfe, whose cross-ice shot/pass from the right boards set up Reimer's tying goal. "But it just wasn't enough.

"We obviously wanted to win, but they're a very skilled team. I don't think anyone is too frustrated. We wanted to work on some things with our special teams. We changed some lines and a couple guys were with new guys and trying to get some chemistry going.

"(The game) served a purpose. You want to stay fresh and stay on the ice (during an off week), we're not playing for points so it's a different mindset. But we were still trying to get a win out of it.''

The Spartans are now 3-6 against the U.S. Under-18 team. Last season, MSU suffered a 3-0 setback.

The U.S. team, coached by former Spartan forward Danton Cole, who grew up in Lansing, are now 5-7 against Division I college teams. The U-18s have defeated Michigan (5-4 in OT), Miami (4-2), Lake Superior State (3-2) and Bowling Green (6-1).

"We're trying to get ready for the end of the season and the Big Ten Tournament by getting better each week,'' Anastos said. "Our margin for error is slim. We have to do a better job of taking advantage of the scoring chances we get.

"Our special teams have let us down all season and we have to figure out a better way to get better. We got a power-play goal tonight but we gave up two. Special teams have been a factor in many games this season and this is another example.'' MSU was 1-for-4 on the power play, while the U-18s were 2-for-3.

BOSTON CONNECTION: The U.S. 18s top forward line features three elite players who will be playing college hockey in Boston next season - center Jack Eichel, left wing Sonny Milano and right wing Alex Tuch.

Eichel, a 6-foot-1, 191-pounder from N. Chelmsford, Mass., is fast-tracking in high school so he can enroll at Boston University next fall. Milano, a 5-foot-11, 185-pounder from Massapequa, N.Y., and the 6-3, 215-pound Tuch, from Baldwinsville, N.Y., are headed to Boston College.

The Spartans will see Eichel again because they're playing at BU next season, after hosting the Terriers last October.

"They were really good tonight. We had a tough time shutting them down," MSU sophomore center Michael Ferrantino said of the visitors' top line. "They're a younger team so they're not as physical, but their skills set them apart.

"They played really well as a team. It's their second year together as a group, they seem to have good chemistry and they're ultra-skilled.''

COLLEGE STARS OF THE FUTURE: Since Saturday's game was an exhibition game, the U-18 team dressed 22 players and all but one have committed to U.S. colleges. The schools include MSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Miami, Boston College, Boston University, Northeastern, Harvard, Cornell, Brown and Northeastern. The only uncommitted player is actually only 16-years-old and has spent most of the season with the U.S. U-17 team.

BRIGHT FUTURE IN GOAL: Coach Tom Anastos liked what he saw from U-18 goaltender and future Spartan Edwin Minney.

The 6-foot-4, 189-pound Minney made 20 saves and looked sharp in his first game at Munn Arena. Minney, who's from Wind Gap, Pa., will join Jake Hildebrand as MSU's top two goaltenders next season. Hildebrand, who's also from Pennsylvania (Butler) will be a junior.

"He made some key stops and he started early with that save on (Matt) DeBlouw,'' Anastos said. "I was happy to see him play well.

"He moves around very well. He's a big guy and he needs strength and experience and he's getting it. By the time he comes in, he'll have played a handful of college games and have international experience.

"He's got good work habits and he's coming into a situation here that's really positive, with a veteran guy in front of him, one that he can work with and learn from and not have the pressure of having to carry the ball. He'll have the opportunity (to play).''

Minney, who turns 18 on March 29, came into Saturday's game with a 16-8-1 record, a 2.64 goals-against average and a .906 saves percentage.

TOUGH BREAK FOR YANAKEFF: Senior goalie Will Yanakeff was supposed to get the start against the U-18 team, but he suffered an off-ice concussion this week and sat out the game. Yanakeff was trying to assist at a traffic accident he came upon, but he slipped on ice and hit his head on the ground. He was later diagnosed with a concussion. Yanakeff, who played for the U.S. U-17 team in 2008-09, has not played since Nov. 9 at Michigan Tech. He was set to start on a couple other occasions but toe and knee injuries kept him out of action.

CHANCE TO EXPERIMENT: In a continuing effort to boost scoring, the Spartans changed up three forward lines. Sophomore Matt DeBlouw centered a line with freshman Mackenzie MacEachern on left wing and junior Matt Berry on the right side. Sophomore center Michael Ferrantino and freshman Joe Cox had a new left winger - freshman Villiam Haag.

Sophomore center Thomas Ebbing, MacEachern's usual linemate, centered sophomore Ryan Keller on left wing and junior Tanner Sorenson on right wing.

"We're tried some different combinations, some of which I liked and some are yet to be determined,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "I thought DeBlouw showed some good things today and he played well with with MacEachern. I didn't like Berry early in the game but he got better later.

"We need to get consistency the entire game, not parts of the game. That's an issue with some guys.''

MSU's most dangerous line was the Ferrantino-Cox-Haag unit. Cox and Ferrantino each scored one goal and Haag had two assists.

Ferrantino's line had a really good game, and I thought Haag was a real good player,'' Anastos said. "He made some poised decisions with the puck. He made a good play (on MSU's first goal) going wide wide and cutting to the net. He's comfortable playing the off wing.''

IN THE BIG TEN: First-place Minnesota boosted its lead over second-place Wisconsin to seven points with a 2-1 victory and series sweep over Penn State. The Gophers (23-4-5 overall, 12-2-2-0 Big Ten) broke a 1-1 tie on senior Tom Serratore's goal with 6:45 left in the third period on Senior Night. Minnesota and Wisconsin have four games remaining - all on the road. The Gophers, who have 38 points, can clinch the first Big Ten regular-season title next weekend with a sweep at Ohio State or if they split and the Badgers also split a series at Penn State.

In the battle for third place, Michigan has a two-point lead over Ohio State, and the two teams complete their weekend series at 1 p.m. Sunday in Columbus, at Nationwide Arena, the home of the NHL Columbus Blue Jackets. A victory lifts the Buckeyes ahead of the Wolverines and into third place. OSU and U-M played to a 2-2 tie on Friday, with the Buckeyes winning the shootout.

Next weekend, Michigan State and Michigan play a home-and-home series - at 7 p.m. on Friday in Ann Arbor and at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Munn Arena.

MSU closes out the regular season by hosting Wisconsin - at 7 p.m. on March 14 and at 4 p.m. on March 15. The Big Ten Tournament is March 20-22 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

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