Neil’s Notebook: OT Goal Ends Spartans’ Season
Neil Koepke recaps Thursday's Big Ten Tournament loss to Ohio State.
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
ST. PAUL, Minn. – Michigan State played a roller coaster type of game on Thursday night against Ohio State.
The Spartans were down early, playing poorly in the first period and finding themselves dealing with a 2-0 deficit.
Then they were up in the second period, riding the wave of three power-play goals in 6 minutes and 16 seconds to take a 3-2 lead.
Early in the third period, MSU found itself feeling down again, when the Buckeyes tied the game 3-3.
For pretty much the rest of the third period and into overtime, both teams had plenty of ups and downs as the play went back and forth, with each team failing to capitalize on glorious scoring chances and surviving frustrating mistakes.
In the end, Michigan State’s roller coaster car jumped the track, signaling the end to an entertaining, Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal thriller, and also unfortunately, the Spartans’ season.
Ohio State freshman forward Mason Jobst fired a rebound past MSU goalie Jake Hildebrand at 13:47 of overtime to give the Buckeyes a 4-3 victory at Excel Energy Arena.
While OSU (14-17-4) moves on to Friday’s semifinals against No. 1 seed Minnesota (19-16-0), the season comes to an end for the No. 5 seeded Spartans (10-23-4 overall).
“We were playing with a lot of confidence going into the third period with the (3-2) lead,’’ said senior defenseman Travis Walsh, playing in his last game as a Spartan. “Their third goal was a tough one.’’
The Buckeyes tied it 3-3 at 3:47 of the third period after a shot from the middle of the ice at the point by defenseman Drew Brevig deflected off the stick of MSU’s Joe Cox and then the skate of Walsh and caromed to Matthew Weiss in the right circle. He let go with a quick shot that and the puck found its way past goalie Jake Hildebrand and into the net.
“At that point, the game could have gone either way, for both teams,’’ Walsh said. “We both had plenty of chances.’’
Jobst’s game-winner came after each team missed several quality chances to end the game late in the third period and in the OT.
With 15.7 seconds left in regulation time, MSU defenseman Zach Osburn’s shut from the left point glanced off an OSU stick, deflected over the net and off the glass. It bounced back to the net and landed on the crossbar and dropped toward the crease before OSU goalie Christian Fry snagged it.
Hildebrand, who finished with 48 saves, stopped five shots in overtime, while Fry, who made 32 saves, stopped seven in overtime.
In the late stages of OT, the Spartans failed to clear the puck out of the zone along the right boards, and it slid back to defenseman Craig Dalrymple at the point. He followed through with a slap shot that got through to the net. Hildebrand made a stick save but puck caromed out front to the onrushing Jobst, who didn’t miss with his 12th goal the of the season.
Jobst, a member of the Big Ten All-Rookie Team, was a junior hockey teammate with the Spartans’ Walsh, Cox and Matt DeBlouw in Muskegon of the U.S. Hockey League.
“I played juniors with Jobst and he’s a finisher. He finished on that play,’’ Walsh said. “We’ve had some great games against (Ohio State). It’s been back and forth. We were excited for this game. We played a good game but unfortunately didn’t come out on top.’’
The Spartans’ three power-play goals came off the sticks of Cox at 5:15, DeBlouw at 8:24 and senior captain Mike Ferrantino at 11:31, as OSU took three straight penalties early in the second period, including a five-minute major and game misconduct to defenseman Sasha Larocque.
“One of the things we wanted to do was win the special teams game and we did,’’ Ferrantino said. “When you get three power-play goals, you think you should have a good chance to win the game.
“They got a few bounces when they needed them, but we got some bounces, too. They got that faceoff goal (that made it 3-3) in which their shot hit two players and ended up on their stick.
“But I think we lost the game in the first period. We shot ourselves I the foot going down 2-0,’’ said Ferrantino, who took the heartbreaking loss and the end of his Spartan career pretty hard, as did the other seniors, playing their last game in Green and White.
“We battled back, but it still comes down to those early goals.’’
Ohio State scored 38 seconds into the game on John Wiitala’s wrap-around goal, and added its second with 1:08 left in the period as defenseman Tommy Parran pounced on fellow defenseman Josh Healey’s rebound, after a hard slap shot, and fired it into the net.
The Spartans looked down and out but showed impressive resiliency with an energetic second period, and some of the best power-play movement and execution of the season. It resulted in three goals and boost of confidence.
Walsh assisted on the first two goals with excellent set-up passes that Cox and DeBlouw converted. DeBlouw also assisted on Cox’s goal, Villiam Haag had an assist on DeBlouw’s PPG and freshman defenseman Zach Osburn and junior Mackenzie MacEachern were in on Ferrantino’s goal, a deflection of Osburn’s shot from the point.
“We were taking our time, being patient and we were being simple and getting shots through,’’ Walsh said. “We were letting them chase us around a bit before we passed off and we had guys open.’’
The Spartans were 3-for-7 on the power play while OSU was 0-for-2. MSU was shorthanded for 39 seconds in the first period and two minutes for 37 seconds to end the second period and 1:23 into the third. The Spartans had 13 shots on goal during 10 minute and 34 seconds of power-play time.
MSU coach Tom Anastos said his team was uptight after giving up the early goal and played the first period worried about making mistakes.
“You give up a goal on the first shift and you’re back on your heels,’’ he said. “I just tried to get the guys to settle down and create a simple approach and get our feet moving.
“The power play allowed us to climb back into the game. Our power play hasn’t been scoring very often, but tonight we moved the puck around pretty well and we had some good looks. Those were good goals that we scored. We challenged our power play on Monday to be a difference maker and it was.’’
MSU overcame its rough start, controlled the second period and had some excellent opportunities to regain the lead after OSU tied it.
“We were disappointed in our start but I was proud of our recovery. At that point, it was anybody’s game,’’ Anastos said. “They got a little bit of puck luck, which I give them credit for because you make your own puck luck. We just couldn’t get the puck to bounce into the net for us.
“We had plenty of opportunities for that to happen but they made the last play of the game.’’
And for the Spartans, the last play of a disappointing season which was filled with challenges, including dealing with an eight-game losing streak in mid-January.
But the players were resilient and they stayed together, worked hard and found a way to become a competitive team the last two months of the season. MSU finished the regular season at 5-4-1, including victories over the two best teams in the Big Ten -- Michigan and Minnesota.
“Adversity is tough on you but it can make you better,’’ Walsh said. “We decided that instead of folding, we were going to make somethings happen the rest of the season, doing everything to the best of our ability.’’
“What I’ll take away is that even if your team gets beaten down – we were at that stretch during the season – if you stay together, good things can happen,’’ Cox said. “At the end of the season, we really rebounded and coming into the tournament, we were doing pretty well.’’
For the seniors, the leadership corps and younger players, the group learned some valuable lessons.
“We learned that we have to keep fighting through things, fighting through all the adversity we face, and we did that,’’ Ferrantino said. “We banded together. It’ll be a life lesson for all us.
“Tonight, we got down 2-0 and we could have panicked but we didn’t. All of a sudden, guys started to believe and we got better. That’s our team. It’s a group that’s very special.’’
GO AWAY, BUCKEYES: In Michigan State’s five games against Ohio State this season, all five were essentially one-goal games. Three went into overtime and one decided by a shootout in the Big Ten standings.
In fact, the Spartans’ last three meetings with the Buckeyes went into overtime over the last seven days.
A week ago, in the final regular-season series of the season, Ohio State outlasted the Spartans, 6-5, in OT. The next night, the teams played to a 1-1 tie, with MSU winning the shootout, 1-0. On Friday in St. Paul, it was another overtime affair between these teams.
“It’s been frustrating but still fun hockey to play,’’ Ferrantino said. “It was back and forth pretty even in another one tonight. I don’t know if you can find two teams more evenly matched statistically in their games against each other.
In the first series against OSU, the Spartans won 4-2 (with an empty-net goal) and lost 2-1 in Columbus on Jan. 29-30. In the end, the Buckeyes outscored MSU, 15-14.
“They’re a great offensive team. They have incredible speed on their front end,’’ junior Joe Cox said. “I think our team defense is one of our strong suits, so I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve had such close games against then all season.’’
BUSY NIGHT FOR HILDEBRAND: Once again, senior goalie Jake Hildebrand had another solid game in making 48 saves and keeping his team in contention with several standout saves, including on point-blank shot and breakaways.
He stopped 17 of 19 shots in the opening period when Ohio State looked like it was on the verge of running away with the game. But Hildebrand made some clutch saves to keep the score close, setting up MSU’s three power goals in 6 minutes and 16 seconds in the second period.
Hildebrand made 11 saves in each of the second and third period and five stops in overtime.
“That’s the goaltending we get every game. There’s a reason why he was an All-American,’’ junior right wing Joe Cox said. “We always know we’ll get a great game out of him. He’s like a security blanket for us.’’
Hildebrand, who did not have a dominant senior year, finishes this season with a 3.12 goals-against and a .904 saves percentage. He had three shutouts, including his last win as a Spartan in a 5-0 blanking of Minnesota on March 5.
SCORING LEADERS: Mackenzie MacEachern won the team scoring title with 14 goals and 16 assists for a career-high 30 points. Last season, MacEachern had 11 goals and 26 points.
Michael Ferrantino finished second with 10 goals and 16 assists for a career-high 26 points. Last season, he had 12 goals and 23 points.
Joe Cox was third in team scoring with 23 points – 11 goals and 12 assists. There was a two-way tie for fourth with junior JT Stenglein and freshman Mason Appleton each having 22 points. Stenglein has eight goals and 14 assists while Appleton has five goals and 17 assists. Freshman Zach Osburn was MSU’s top-scoring defenseman with six goals and 13 assists for 19 points.
FAREWELL SENIORS: Michigan State dressed eight seniors and had one as a healthy scratch as nine careers came to an end late Thursday night.
Playing their last game as Spartans were forwards Michael Ferrantino, the second-year captain, Matt DeBlouw and Ryan Keller, defenseman Travis Walsh, John Draeger and Justin Hoomaian and goalie Jake Hildebrand. Senior Nate Phillips served as the No. 3 goalie, and senior David Bondra watched the game as a healthy scratch.
Ferrantino led all departing seniors with 79 career points on 34 goals and 45 assists in 148 games. DeBlouw is second with 27 goals and 28 assists for 55 points in 128 games. Keller follows with 39 career points on 18 goals and 21 assists in 111 games. Walsh is the highest-scoring defenseman with three goals and 45 assists for 48 points in 141 games. Draeger ends his career with three goals and 27 assists for 30 points in 131 games. Hoomaian, converted from right wing to defense in mid-January, had two goals and four assists for six points in 99 games. Bondra played in 68 games and had one goal and four assists for five points. Phillips did not see action until last Saturday on Senior Night, when he made his career debut in the last 1:37 of the first period against Ohio State. He did not give up a goal and made one save. Hildebrand played in his 133rd game of his MSU career. He finished with a 2.54 goals-against average, a .921 saves percentage, 13 shutouts and a 45-70-14 record.
IN THE BIG TEN: In Thursday’s other Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal, Penn State defeated Wisconsin 5-2 and will play Michigan in a semifinal at 8:30 p.m. on Friday.
In the second semifinal on Friday, Ohio State will try to knock off Minnesota for the first time this season at 8:30 p.m. The Gophers swept the Buckeyes, 3-2 in overtime and 5-4 in overtime on Dec. 4-5 at Mariucci Arena, and won both games in Columbus on Feb. 12-14, 5-4 in overtime and 4-3.
Saturday’s Big Ten championship game is at 8 p.m. on Saturday.
Michigan is a lock to receive an NCAA berth, even if it doesn’t win the league championship. But Minnesota Penn State have to win the title to get into the NCAA Tournament.