Neil's Notebook: P for Progress
2011-12 team brought program back to NCAA Tournament, but standards are higher
March 24, 2012
By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com
For Tom Anastos, there was a lot to like about his team's effort, energy and performance on Friday night in the NCAA East Regional.
Unfortunately, there was one thing not to like, one thing that really stung: The final score.
Michigan State, a definite underdog to No. 3 ranked Union, battled hard into the third period and created two outstanding scoring chances in the last eight minutes in a bid to tie the game.
But the No. 15 Spartans fell short and saw their season come to an end as the Dutchmen, the No. 1 seed in the regional, held on for a 3-1 victory at Webster Bank Arena. MSU bows out with a 19-16-4 record.
"One thing we knew we could control was our effort. We didn't know what the result would be but I wanted to make sure when we left here today we had established a strong effort,'' Spartans' first-year coach Tom Anastos said. "I felt comfortable with that.
"We lost to a good team. And the difference was they took advantage of some of the mistakes we made and scored and on some of our opportunities, we weren't able to do that.''
MSU played hard, showed resiliency and took the defeat with class. There was no whining about breaks, tough bounces, penalties or a disallowed goal in the first period. The Spartans credited Union (25-7-7) and just wished they finished on some good opportunities.
"I know our work ethic was there. Unfortunately, we didn't capitalize on a few of the Grade A chances we had,'' MSU junior center and assistant captain Anthony Hayes said. "Their goalie played well and their defense is top-notch, too.
"I'm sure we'll look back and be able to find a few things that we could have done better. But we know we put forth the effort.''
Trailing 2-0 on a late first-period goal and another Union goal early in the second, the Spartans got back into the game seconds after the Dutchmen failed to convert on a bizarre-and-quick 3-on-0 rush in the final minute of the second period.
MSU came back down the ice with captain Torey Krug and Brett Perlini setting up freshman right wing Matt Berry, who cut across the ice into the right circle and beat Union standout goalie Troy Grosenick with a wrist shot that hit the left post and caromed into the net with 38.7 seconds left on the clock. It was Berry's 11th of the season.
In the third period, Union played sound defense against the re-energized Spartans, but MSU still had two glorious chances to make it 2-2.
Krug made an outstanding pass from deep in his own zone from the right circle to a wide-open Berry at the far blue line on the left. Berry skated in on a partial breakaway and from the left circle let go with a wrist shot that sailed wide of the right post with 7:32 left.
And with 2:54 to go, the line of Lee Reimer, Greg Wolfe and Chris Forfar and defensive pairing of Krug and Brock Shelgren capped an excellent pressure-filled shift with one of MSU's best scoring chances of the night.
Forfar, in the left corner by the goal line, centered the puck to an open Reimer in the slot, just outside the left faceoff circle. Reimer drew his stick back and one-timed it toward the net. But Grosenick blocked it with his catching glove with 2:54 left on the clock and Union cleared the rebound.
It was the save of the game for the Grosenick and probably saved the Dutchmen from going into overtime.
"I was calling for it and Forfar made a good play to get to me in the slot,'' said Reimer, who tapped his stick two or three times when he saw he was free in front. "I tried to get as much stick on it as I could and I think I did. He just made a good save. I thought it could catch him off guard but he got it.''
A few minutes later, an aggressive forechecking Wolfe got his stick caught up in the chest of Union defenseman Matt Bodie and was called for hooking at 18:26.
Union won a faceoff in the MSU zone and took off on a 2-on-1 rush and Wayne Simpson scored to make it 3-1 at 18:42 and seal his school's first NCAA Tournament win. A year ago, Union lost its first-round NCAA game.
The Dutchmen will play UMass-Lowell for a spot in the Frozen Four in the East Regional title game at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. UMass-Lowell upset Miami, 4-3 in overtime, in Friday's second game.
"In the third period, it was a one-shot game. We had some point-blank opportunities and their goalie made some great saves,'' Anastos said his team's desperate bid to pull into a tie with Union. "Matt Berry missed the net and Shelgren had a good one-timer.
"We didn't come in here with a potent offensive team. We knew that we would have to scratch and claw to create offense against a good defensive team.''
Grosenick, a sophomore and a Hobey Baker Award finalist, made 20 saves, eight in the third period. Berry, Krug and Brett Perlini led MSU with four shots apiece.
MSU goalie Will Yanakeff stopped 29 shots, including four on Union's five-minute power play midway through the first period, after Spartan left wing Dean Chelios was assessed a checking-from-behind major and game misconduct for a hit along the boards.
Sophomore center Max Novak had Union's first goal off a 2-on-1 rush with the teams playing 4-on-4 in the opening period. Standout junior center Jeremy Welsh, who assisted on Novak's goal, made it 2-0 for the Dutchmen just 3:20 into the second, pouncing on a rebound and making a nice play to beat Yanakeff from close in. It was Welsh's 26th goal of the season.
"They played well in front of their goalie and it was hard to generate chances,'' Krug said. "Our guys did a good job keeping their heads up on the bench (when MSU went down 2-0). It's been that way all year.
"I was proud how the guys handled that. They were cheering on the bench for one another and I think we fed off that energy.''
Anastos said he was proud of his team's play Friday and commitment to playing hard and improving the program.
"We made a big jump from where we started to where we are today,'' he said. "It obviously hurts a lot and I feel for everyone sitting in the dressing room, especially the seniors who poured their hearts into helping as we transitioned.
"They helped lead and lay the foundation for us to do lots of good things in the future.''
But referees Marco Hunt and Derek Shepherd of the WCHA ruled no goal at first, then went to the penalty box to review the play on video. After a fairly long delay, the officials ruled "No goal" -- that the net was dislodged at the right post before the puck went into the net.
The reason the net went up a few inches was due to Union forward Josh Jooris standing in the crease behind Grosenick and backing up to lift the cage up, just as the puck hit him and went into the net. It's a penalty to intentionally dislodge the net but apparently both referees were focused on the puck and not Jooris.
The NCAA, citing rule No. 16, Section 18-12 of the NCAA Rule Book, issued a statement on the video review: "Referee Derek Shepherd's on-ice call was no goal. During the video review, it was determined that the net was dislodged prior to the puck entering the net. Therefore, there was not conclusive video evidence to overturn the on-ice referee's initial call. Penalties cannot be called by the use of video review.''
The NCAA rule reads: "A goal shall not be allowed in any of the following cases: . . . No. 12. If the goal cage has been moved or dislodged. The goal frame is considered to be displaced if any portion of the goal frame is not in its proper position (e.g., frame must be completely flat on the ice surface, goal posts must be in proper place and affixed securely in place with its pegs.''
The Spartans were hopeful the review would go their way but they did not complain when the goal was disallowed.
"The referees said they looked at every possible angle and so we trust them to make the decision,'' junior assistant captain Anthony Hayes said. "We knew when it took so long, it was going to be a close call. We were prepared to handle it either way it was called.
"It didn't go our way but I'm sure if we look back at our season, there were some calls that did. We continued to work hard and just came up short.''
Coach Tom Anastos, in his post-game press conference, said he had not looked at the play on video.
"They gave it plenty of time and I trust the process,'' he said. "But I will look at it.''
Torey Krug said the Spartans' improved season and first trip to the NCAA Tournament in four years was due in large part to the seniors' leadership and contributions on the ice.
"I think it all starts with work habits. The guys, and especially the seniors, took pride in coming to the rink every day and working hard . . . giving 100 percent 100 percent of the time,'' he said. "That was our motto all season.
"I'm really proud of the seniors and how they responded, and the other classes did a great job of buying into that.''
"It was awesome to be here,'' sophomore center Lee Reimer said. "It was the most fun thing I've ever played in. Being around it and playing when it's like summer out was great. I want to do this again my next two years and do better. It was a great experience.''
Every freshman from then on, who stayed four years, has been part of team that's played in the NCAA's post-season. The 1978-79 freshmen had it rough the first three seasons but those who stayed were part of the 1982 NCAA Tournament team -- coach Ron Mason's third season at MSU.
"That's a tough question. At Michigan State, we don't judge ourselves on just getting in the tournament. We judge ourselves on winning championships,'' he said.
"At the same time, we've come a long way. When coach Anastos was hired he told us we were his guys and he was going to win with us. Everybody bought into and from then on, everybody gave 100 percent effort.''
Krug said the big things Anastos brought to the team in his first season as coach "is that he's been in our skates and has the passion for Michigan State.''
"That's what we wanted, someone who knows how it is to go into Yost Arena and play Michigan and how it is to go to Big Rapids to play Ferris State,'' Krug said."His passion is there. And that's one things we feed off every day when we come to practice.''
After Krug had left the media interview area and Anastos was wrapping up his interview session, he brought up the "Grade" question.
"The grade Torey wanted to give,'' Anastos said, "was a `P' . . . for progress.''