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Neil’s Notebook: Early Deficit Too Much For Spartans

Oct. 14, 2017

By Neil Koepke staff writer

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – Throw out the first 10 minutes of the first period and there were some good things to like about the way Michigan State played here Friday night.

And really, it wasn’t a full 10 minutes that doomed the Spartans in their 2017-18 season opener against Bowling Green. It was a crazy stretch of only 1 minute and 41 seconds in which the energetic Falcons struck for three goals that set up a frustrating night for MSU.

For sure, the Spartans showed some resolve later in the opening period and most of the second period, but it wasn’t enough as Bowling Green earned a 4-1 non-conference victory in front of 3,211 fans at Slater Family Arena.

This is what the 101 seconds of gloom and doom for the Spartans looked like:

>> At 8:14 of the first period, BGSU’s Stephen Baylis pounced on his own rebound and beat MSU goalie Ed Minney on a power play for a 1-0 lead.

>> At 9:43, Frederic Letourneau scored from the slot and it was 2-0.

>> Twelve seconds later, at 9:55, Cameron Wright found the back of the net to make it 3-0 and end Minney’s night, after seven saves.

It appeared Michigan State was in danger of getting blown out, but the Spartans settled down and pushed back, cutting their deficit to 3-1 early in the second period on Taro Hirose’s power-play goal. MSU held an edge in play in the middle period but couldn’t get that much-needed second goal to put pressure on the Falcons.

Danton Cole, making his MSU coaching debut, was disappointed with his team’s start and the loss but was not discouraged.

“I thought our guys competed a lot better (after the first 10 minutes). We moved the puck better and kind of got up to game speed, which were behind early on,’’ Cole said. “There were some good things and we hope to build on those for tomorrow.’’



The Spartans (0-1) and Falcons (1-1) meet in the series finale at 7 p.m. Saturday at Munn Arena.

“There were some predictable things. We knew that BG was going to come out hard and that they’re an aggressive team,’’ Cole said. “Coach (Chris) Bergeron does a good job. So, we knew that was going to happen and that it would take us a little time to get our legs going.’’

The Spartans made a batch of mistakes during BGSU’s surge and the home skaters feasted. Cole said the blame has to be shared.

“Really, in those situations, it’s everyone – it’s the goalie, the defense and the forwards,’’ he said. “You have to play a defense of six. We have to be better than that. We were in the next 50 minutes, but a 3-0 deficit is tough.

“There was the power-play goal (that started the surge) and we’ve got to be cleaner. On a coverage out top, we kind of lost a lane so you don’t blame the goalie for that. And we blew a little bit of a coverage coming through the slot and they made a nice play there, and then then stuffed one in.’’

Cole the replaced Minney with sophomore John Lethemon, who made 17 saves and gave up one goal the rest of the way.

On a power play early in the second period, Hirose teamed up with Cody Milan and Mitchell Lewandowski to score MSU’s first goal of the season. Milan got the puck from Lewandowski at the blue line on the right wing and fed a perfect cross-ice pass to open Hirose in the middle. The sophomore left wing drove to the net and beat freshman goalie Eric Dop to make it 3-1.

Trying to mount a comeback in the third period, the Spartans were hampered by penalties, including a five-minute major penalty for interference on Zach Osburn. The junior defenseman made a bone-crunching hit which flattened BGSU forward John Schilling at 6:51.

Less than two minutes later, the Falcons converted as Connor Ford deflected Mitch McLain’s shot past Lethemon at 8:49 to boost their lead to 4-1.

Bowling Green, which spent 13 minutes and 11 seconds on the power play, was 2-for-7 with the man advantage and had 10 shots on goal. MSU had 6 minutes and 18 seconds of power-play time, converting on one of four opportunities and had eight shots on goal.

“A lot of times when you get power plays, you build momentum off them, and they got that (first) goal and then we were chasing and they gained a lot of momentum,’’ sophomore center Sam Saliba said. “A credit to them for getting the puck to the net.

“Our power play was all right, but they did win the special teams battle, 2-1. That’s a positive for them and a negative for us.’’

For Saliba, there were some positives to build on.

“I liked the way we responded in the second period,’’ he said. “We have to find a way to do that for 60 minutes on Saturday, and stay out of the box.’’

Said senior defenseman Carson Gatt: “No one envisioned what happened in the first 10 minutes. We could have rolled over or fought back. We did fight back. I was happy with our resolve.

“We were able to move the puck quicker and get it past their defense and not play so much in our defensive zone. We need to tighten up on our special teams, work a little harder and play a little more physical.’’

LETHEMON SHARP IN RELIEF: Sophomore goaltender John Lethemon was a bright spot for the Spartans on Friday with a solid 50 minutes of action in relief of starter Ed Minney.

Lethemon made 17 saves – two in the first period, eight in the second and nine in the final 20 minutes. He gave up one goal on a deflection on a Falcon power play at 8:44 of the third period.

“He did really well. That’s tough to jump in cold after you think you’re not playing from last night on,’’ MSU coach Danton Cole said. “Everyone has to be on board and ready to help out.’’

THE STATISTICAL SIDE: Michigan State did hold an edge in one area of Friday’s season opener. The Spartan controlled the faceoff circle, winning 37 and losing 29.

Centers Sam Saliba, a sophomore, and Tommy Apap, a freshman, led the way. Saliba held a 13-5 edge and Apap, in his college debut, went 9-2.

Meanwhile, each team had 28 shots on goal, with Falcons goalie Eric Dop stopping 27 shots.

Junior right wing Cody Milan led MSU with four shots on goal, followed by four players with three apiece – forwards Taro Hirose, Patrick Khodorenko and Mitchell Lewandowski and freshman defenseman Tommy Miller.

Left wing Stephen Baylis, who had a goal and an assist, led Bowling Green with five shots on goal, while freshman right wing Cameron Wright, who scored one goal, had four shots on net.

IN THE BIG TEN: No. 4-ranked Notre Dame and No. 1 Denver, the defending NCAA champion, played to a 2-2 tie in a non-conference game on Friday in South Bend.

After each team scored one goal in the first period, the Pioneers went up 2-1 on sophomore forward Henrik Borgstrom’s second goal of the game on a power play at 14:38 of the third period. But the Irish tied it on Andrew Oglevie’s power-play goal at 16:11.

Notre Dame freshman goalie Dylan St. Cyr made 46 saves, including 20 in the third period.

The teams meet again at 6 p.m. today.

In a conference game, No. 11 Penn State (2-1, 1-0 Big Ten) built a 3-0 after two periods and held on for a 3-1 victory over No. 7 Minnesota (1-2, 0-1) on Friday in Minneapolis. The teams meet again on Sunday afternoon.

No. 10 Wisconsin stunned No. 13 Boston College, 5-2, in a non-conference game on Friday in Boston. The Badgers (3-1, 1-1) broke a 1-1 tie with two goals in the second period and went up 4-1 with a goal early in the third period.

Wisconsin plays at Merrimack on Saturday.

In another non-conference series, Ohio State (1-1-1) and Rensselaer (0-1) skated to a 1-1 tie on Friday in Columbus. The Buckeyes outshot the Engineers 57-24 but were 0-for-6 on the power play. The teams close out the series on Saturday.

Michigan (1-1) has the weekend off.

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