Neil’s Notebook: Hirose’s Late Goal Gives Spartans First Win of the Season
Notes, quotes and analysis from Neil Koepke on Saturday's victory over BGSU.
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
EAST LANSING – Sixteen minutes after missing an opportunity to give his team the lead on a breakaway early in the third period, Taro Hirose found himself with another chance to lift fans out of their seats at Munn Arena.
This time, he didn’t miss. And 40.1 seconds later, Michigan State celebrated its first victory of the season and the first win under new coach Danton Cole.
Hirose, one of the Spartans top go-to guys on offense, took a pass from linemate Mitchell Lewandowski high in the slot in the last minute of play. He drove into the right circle, pulled up, swerved to his left and let go with a quick wrist shot that found the right corner of the net.
The goal broke a 2-2 tie and MSU held on for the final 40. 1 seconds for a 3-2 victory over Bowling Green and a split of their non-conference series.
In an entertaining, evenly played game, witnessed by an enthusiastic crowd of 4,276, the Spartans’ third period was their best of the young season. They outshot the Falcons, 16-5, and found a way to pull out the victory after losing the series opener, 4-1, on Friday at BGSU. “Lot of fun tonight. I thought our guys did an outstanding job,” Cole said. “These guys are going to work hard and do some good stuff. We’re going to have to win some games like that. That’s the way it’s going to be.
“In every period we’ve played, we’ve gotten a little better. I thought our third period tonight was outstanding.’’
Hirose capped a fast-paced third period in which the Spartans (1-1) had several excellent chances to take the lead. But some tough puck luck and solid goaltending by Bowling Green’s Ryan Bednard kept the game tied – until Hirose’s clutch play.
“It was awesome. To share it with my teammates and in front of the student section is something I’ll remember from my time here,’’ said Hirose, a 5-foot-10, 160-pound sophomore left wing from Calgary, Alberta.
“Lewie (Lewandowski) passed the puck in the middle and I was going to take the shot but their guy came up a little fast on me and I thought I could get by him. I was on my backhand and tried to go to my forehand and get something on the net.”
That “something” beat Bednard low to the right corner, officially at 19:20.
Just 3:08 into the third period, Hirose raced in on a breakaway, went to his backhand but Bednard made a clutch glove save to keep his team from going down by a goal.
“For sure, that was a little frustrating,’’ Hirose said. “That didn’t end up the way I wanted it so it was good to get that one back.’’
Hirose, MSU’s second-leading scorer last season with six goals and 18 assists for 24 points, scored the Spartans’ only goal in Friday’s 4-1 loss at Bowling Green.
“The big thing is we had no mental lapses tonight. On Friday, we had that short time span (1:41) and we gave up three goals,’’ Hirose said. “Today, we had a good 60-minute effort from everyone. It was good to see a guy like (Tommy) Apap get his first goal.’’
Apap, a freshman center from Bloomfield Hills, gave the Spartans a 1-0 lead with rebound goal from the edge of the crease at 13:34 of the first period.
After the Falcons went up 2-1 on a power-play goal by Brandon Kruse, less than two minutes after Apap’s goal, and a goal by left wing Shane Bednard, the brother of BGSU’s goalie, early in the second period, MSU tied it less than two minutes after Bednard’s put the puck in the net
Khodorenko fired the puck high over the left shoulder of Ryan Bednard from a wide angle between the goal line and the lower edge of the right circle. For sure, it caught Bednard by surprise and probably most of the fans at Munn Arena.
“I kinda caught him sleeping a little and caught the corner. I did see an opening, but even on the power play, you usually don’t go for those,’’ Khordorenko said. “These games are huge for us and our confidence. It’s a good way to start the season. Last year, we started 0-4. That didn’t help us at all with confidence. It helps to win at home, too.’’
Cole said he was impressed by the way his team didn’t panic on Friday when MSU found itself down 3-0 and instead got better as the game went on, and how it responded in a close game on Saturday.
“We have 19 freshman and sophomores and to kind of hold their composure last night and then hold their composure in the third period of a 2-2 game (was great to see),’’ he said. “They were pretty good and I’m really happy for the 25 guys in there.
“Whatever we do in the future, this group is going to reset some things culturally here.’’
For the Spartans, the learning and developing process continues next weekend with a home-and-home series against Western Michigan (1-1-1) at 7 p.m. Friday at Munn Arena and at 7 p.m. Saturday in Kalamazoo.
“I enjoy these guys. They’ve given us an awful lot and there’s a decent amount of understanding (going on),’’ Cole said. “There’s a lot of challenges and miles to go in the process, but I like what they’re doing and they’re maximizing some of the things we’ve (given them).
“Their youth and inexperience is great. It’s been infectious. Even the four guys that didn’t play tonight are in the middle of the mix. It’s a good group of 25 guys. They’ll be a lot of fun and there’s going to be some pain. They need that camaraderie to get through some stuff.’’
GOOD WEEKEND FOR LETHEMON: Sophomore goaltender John Lethemon followed up his solid play of 50 minutes on Friday with strong start on Saturday. He stopped 22 shots and allowed two goals – one off a deflection off a teammate on a power play in the first period and the other on a point-blank shot from close in after a MSU turnover in the defensive zone.
“He battled, he was calm and he took care of pucks. He was pretty tidy,’’ Coach Danton Cole said. “Not a lot of rebounds laying around the net. (Assistant coach Joe Exter and volunteer goaltending coach Jason Muzzatti) have been working with him on playing the puck.
“Our exits (from the defensive zone) were a lot cleaner and better and a lot of it was that he’d go back to stop (the puck) and set us up. He was sharp and it’s good to see him follow up on last night. He made some big saves when we needed them.’'
Lethemon made nine saves in the first period, eight in the second and only five in the third. In fact, he faced only one Grade A chance in the final 20 minutes.
“Coming in after Friday night, I felt great, very comfortable and I was seeing the puck well,’’ said the 6-foot-2, 173-pound sophomore from Northville. “Our guys did a great job blocking shots and clearing bodies in front.
“I knew the way the game was going that I had to be locked in. I wasn’t getting much action in the third period and thought maybe they’d get one or two good chances. You always have to be ready.’’
Meanwhile, BGSU goalie Ryan Bednard was seeing lots of shots and his team was under pressure most of the third period. Lethemon liked what he was seeing from the other end of the ice.
“It was just a matter of time until we put one in,’’ he said. “To be a good team, you have to take advantage of your opportunities. We capitalized tonight.’’
Even though Lethemon replaced senior Ed Minney on Friday, after BGSU struck for three quick goals in the first 10 minutes, and played well in the five-and-a-half periods of work, it doesn’t mean he’ll be anointed as the No. 1 goaltender.
“Ed’s played a few years for me (with the U.S. NTDP’s U-17 and U-18 teams) and I know where he’s at, and he’ll play a part of this year,’’ Cole said. “It’s way too early to say one guy is going to play – he’s going to be (Edmonton’s) Cam Talbot and play 73 games for us.
“They’ll keep battling. John had a good weekend and Ed is going to bounce back. We need all the internal competition we can have, and Ed will be back between the pipes before you know it.’’
THE RIGHT TOUCH: Taro Hirose had an excellent freshman season and he appears to be picking up where he left off last year. He’s again part of MSU’s most dangerous scoring line with Patrick Khodorenko and Mitchell Lewandowski and he’s the set-up guy on the power play.
Hirose scored the Spartans’ only goal on Friday in their 4-1 loss, with a perfect shot from the slot on a power play. On Saturday, Hirose had a team-high five shots on goal and made the play of the game with a quick wrist shot that was the game-winner with 40.1 seconds left.
MSU coach Danton Cole said he saw enough of Hirose last season while watching videos of Spartan games to know that he was a very good player.
Now that he’s watched Hirose on the ice since September, Cole is even more impressed.
“He thinks the game and has that sixth sense that a lot of good players that I’ve (coached) have had,’’ he said. “I think he’ll play some high-level hockey when he’s done here.’’
A FIRST FOR APAP: Center Tommy Apap will always have the memory of scoring a goal in his first college game at Munn Arena. Apap tapped in a rebound from the edge of the crease in the first period after BGSU goalie Ryan Bednard made a save on MSU defenseman Zach Osburn’s shot from the right point.
The goal – at 13:34 of the opening period – gave the Spartans a 1-0 lead.
“It was an unbelievable feeling. I was in the right place at the right time,’’ said Apap, a 21-year-old freshman from Bloomfield Hills who played three seasons of high school hockey at the University of Detroit Jesuit and three years of junior hockey before coming to MSU.
“Ozzie took a great shot. Both my linemates (Cody Milan and Brennan Sanford) were working their butts off down low and Oz had great vision on the shot. It got through and just popped on my stick. There’s a lot of adrenaline going so you have to make sure you finish the play.’’
GOOD CROWD: Despite the Michigan State football team playing Minnesota on the Big Ten Network Saturday night and the continuous rain, a very good crowd showed up to watch the Spartans hockey home opener. The attendance was announced at 4,276 and the fans were loud and really into the game.
“The crowd was great tonight. The students were outstanding and there was a good buzz,’’ Coach Danton Cole said. “It seemed like a late-arriving crowd, like the theatre. Every period, there was more people in here.
“By the last period I went to (assistant coach) Joe (Exter) and said I think our guesses on the attendance are way off. But it was good and you have to feed off of that. This is going to be a blue-collar team and people latch on to that. Home ice has to give you a little extra.’’
IN THE BIG TEN: Wisconsin completed a sweep of its two-game, non-conference road trip to Boston with a 4-1 victory over Merrimack on Saturday. The No. 10 Badgers (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) defeated No. 13 Boston College, 4-1, on Friday.
No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 1 Denver played another close game in South Bend on Saturday, but this one didn’t end in a tie. The Irish (2-1-1) rallied with two goals late in the third period to pull into a 2-2 deadlock, but the Pioneers scored twice in the last five minutes to earn a 4-2 victory.
Denver’s Liam Finlay broke the 2-2 tie at 15:32 of the third period, 28 seconds after Notre Dame tied it. The Pioneers (1-0-1) added an empty-net goal with 1:20 left. The teams played to a 2-2 tie in the series opener on Friday.
Ohio State and Rensselaer closed out their non-league series the same way they started it – with a 1-1 tie. The Engineers (0-0-2) scored in the first period and the Buckeyes (1-1-2) tied it in the second.
No. 11 Penn State (2-1, 1-0) and No. 7 Minnesota (1-2, 0-1) complete their Big Ten series this afternoon in Minneapolis. In the opener on Friday, the Nittany Lions defeated the Gophers, 3-1.
Michigan had the weekend off.