Neil’s Notebook: Spartans Win a Wild One
Notes, quotes and analysis from Neil Koepke on the comeback win over WMU.
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
EAST LANSING – If you like a hockey game with lots of goals, you would have loved Friday’s game at Munn Arena.
And if you love games with lots of goals and a dramatic finish, then you really would have enjoyed what happened on the ice between Michigan State and Western Michigan.
And if you’re a Spartan fan who really loves victories, then this is a game you’ll savor for quite a while.
In a bizarre 60 minutes featuring dozens of quality scoring chances and early goals in each period, the Spartans saw leads of 2-0 and 3-1 vanish, only to overcome a 4-3 deficit with three unanswered goals in less than seven minutes late in the final period.
The end result was a 6-4 Michigan State victory in front of an energetic crowd of 3,409. It was the Spartans’ second straight victory with the winning goal coming in the last two minutes.
Cardiac Spartans? Well, it’s only three games into the season, including two home contests, but so far so good.
“That’s a great win. It would have been a bad loss if we lost, after being up 3-1 in the first period,’’ said sophomore center Patrick Khodorenko, who chipped in with a goal 33 seconds into the game and two key assists in the third period.
While MSU (2-1) got strong contributions from several players, two Spartans made a major impact in the third period to turn a potential loss into a rewarding victory.
Scarsella, who has played in only 11 games and two of three this season, tied the game 4-4 with 7:08 left in the third period when his shot from the left boards clanked off the crossbar or right post and ended up in the net.
Just 5 minutes and 42 seconds later, when it looked like the game would be decided in overtime, Khodorenko won a faceoff in the right circle, got the puck to Lewandowski, who let go with a wrister went through a maze of players and beat WMU goalie Ben Blacker to the right corner with 1:46 left in the game.
Sophomore center Sam Saliba sealed the victory with an empty-net goal, while MSU was on a power play, with 19 seconds left. It was Saliba’s second goal of the night, his third two-goal outing of his MSU career.
Lewandowski, who went into the game with two assists from the Bowling Green series last weekend, led with MSU with four points – a goal and three assists.
“That was a special moment,’’ Lewandowski said of his game-winner. “But I kind of blacked out and don’t remember much. I can’t wait to see it later.
“Patty won the faceoff, the puck came to me and I just shot it – just tried to throw pucks on net and luckily it found a way to go in. I saw it go in and I turned around and kinda went wild.’’
So did Spartans fans, then and at the final buzzer, as Michigan State delivered another exciting finish at home. Last Saturday, Taro Hirose scored with 40 seconds left to break a 2-2 tie and give the Spartans a 3-2 victory over Bowling Green.
“The student section and all the people here tonight, it’s been great,’’ Lewandowski said. “We feel welcome and feel good playing at home.’’
The last time a Spartan had four points in a game was on Nov. 10, 2012, when freshman Matt Berry had three goals and one assist in a 7-2 victory over Michigan at Munn Arena.
“(Lewandowski) has been good for us. He makes plays and he’s learning how to use his (high) hockey IQ on the defensive side,’’ MSU coach Danton Cole said. “That’s the evolution of a player.
“I told him that I didn’t think in the first two periods that he was very good. He was 50-50 on pucks and we bumped him a little bit and said ‘we need you,’ and he turned it up a notch in the third period.
“There’s a lot of growth for him (coming in the future). I’m looking forward to year two and three and see what he can do with a high level of conditioning.’’
For sure, the turning point in the game was Scarsella’s goal at 12:52 of the third period.
Khodorenko won a faceoff in the right circle, got the puck to Hirose, who slid it cross-ice to Scarsella along the left boards. Instead of trying to stickhandle or dump it into the corner, Scarsella played the puck off boards and turned and fired it toward Blacker.
“I was just throwing the puck to the net. I was actually skating away (after the shot) because I thought it was going to miss the net (and rim around the boards), and coach would be mad at me,’’ Scarsella said. “Their guy was coming at me but I knew I had a lane and just tried to fire and get it on net, and figured there were (teammates) down low.’’
Scarsella, a 5-foot-9 defenseman from White Lake, Mich., who played in only nine games last season, said didn’t know the puck was in the net until “I heard the horn.”
“I heard something like (the puck went off the) post or the bar but it took a second until it sunk in,’’ he said. “I’ve been gripping my stick in practicing, waiting for that one.
“But to bring the team back, my puck was just one that found the back of the net. We had so many good chances. All the (forward) lines were going and so many other guys had chances to put the puck in.’’
After the Spartans dominated the first period with two goals in the first 67 seconds – by Khodorenko at 0:33 and Saliba at 1:07 – and a power-play goal by Cody Milan at 16:39 to take a 3-1 lead, the Broncos answered in the second period.
WMU tied it on goals by Aidan Muir at 1:31 and by Austin Rueschhoff, his second of the game, 15 seconds later, and then took a 4-3 lead on Colt Conrad’s goal from the slot 16 seconds into the final period.
The lead lasted 12 minutes and 36 seconds before Scarsella’s goal turned the game around.
“I probably would have lost money saying we’d score six goals a game,’’ Cole said. “You don’t see that happening but you keep throwing the puck at the net.
“(Assistant) coach (Joe) Exter put an emphasis this week in practice on getting bodies in front of the net and getting pucks on net. We had some big bodies, we had guys going there, and if (WMU goalie Ben) Blacker sees the puck, he probably stops it. Our guys did a good job with that.’’
Cole also thought his team improved defensively from the first two periods to the decisive third, when it had more quality chances than the Broncos.
“It seemed like everything was cleaner in the third period,’’ he said. “If we can learn throughout the game and figure out a way to win, that’s a great way to go about it.
“It felt good. Our conditioning was good and we picked up on stuff, adjustments were made in our game. I liked our poise, I liked our moxie.’’
And he liked the fact that Scarsella decided to shoot the puck and hit the net in the third period.
“That was a big goal and good for him. He’s worked hard and d-men don’t get to score a lot of goals,’’ Cole said. “He stepped out outside (of his comfort zone). A week or so ago, we were talking about that. Not catching a pass on the inside and stickhandling and just putting it on the net.
“When he came back to the bench (after scoring), he said, ‘hey, that’s what we were talking about.’’’
GOING FOR THE SWEEP: The Spartans will try to make it three victories in a row as they go for a sweep of the non-conference series when they face the Broncos at 7 p.m. Saturday at Lawson Arena in Kalamazoo.
This time, the Broncos will have the student support and home advantage, so MSU’s challenge will be tougher against a WMU team winless in its last three games at 0-2-1 and looking for revenge. “They have a pretty good team with (Colt) Conrad and (Wade) Allison and the big guy, No. 22 (6-foot-7, 228-pound Austin Rueschhoff). We saw a lot of him,’’ MSU coach Danton Cole said. “They come hard and cut the edge and they’re hard to defend.’’
The Spartans’ last series sweep was against Wisconsin on Feb. 20-21, 2016 in Madison. MSU won 4-3 and 3-1.
In the previous three games against Western Michigan, the Spartans scored only two goals in three defeats – 2-0, 4-1 and 4-1. MSU’s last sweep of the Broncos came six years ago – 3-2 and 4-2 on Nov. 11-12, with both games played in Kalamazoo.
THE BRONCOS’ VIEW: Western Michigan coach And Murray was disappointed with his team’s play on Friday. “We needed to be ready right at the top of the game and we weren’t,’’ he said. “We ended up chasing it all night. It was two very, very young teams and a lot of sloppy hockey.
“You know, it’s not just the young guys making these kinds of mistakes. We’re obviously disappointed. We have to be a lot better. There were just too many guys that were not playing at the level you need to be successful.
“That’s my job, so we’ll try and correct that for tomorrow.’’
Austin Rueschhoff, a freshman from Wentzeville, Missouri, led the Broncos with two goals and an assist – his first career points - and seven shots on goal. Linemate Wade Allison, a sophomore, had four shots on goal and two assists.
BETTER THAN .500: With a 2-1 record, Michigan State is above .500 after three games for the first time since 2010-11 when it started the season 1-0-2 with a tie and win at Maine and a tie at home vs. Alaska.
The last time the Spartans won two of their first three games was in 2009-10 when they started the season 3-0 – a home sweep of Clarkson and a win at Maine.
THE STATS FACTS: MSU held a slight 34-30 edge in shots on goal and had 63 attempts (at the net) to 52 for WMU. In the third period, the Spartans held a 28-14 advantage in shot attempts.
The Broncos were 1-for-3 on the power play with three shots on goal, while MSU scored two power-play goals in five opportunities with five shots on goal.
Of course, MSU’s second power-play goal was scored into an empty net – by Sam Saliba – with 19 seconds left and goalie Ben Blacker pulled for a sixth attacker.
The Broncos’ Wade Allison was called for charging into MSU goalie John Lethemon with 49 seconds left. In attempt to score the tying goal, Allison drove in from the left wing and went hard to the net. He got off a shot before crashing into Lethemon, who was shaken up on the play but stayed in the game.
After his four-point game Friday, Mitchell Lewandowski has taken over the MSU scoring lead with one goal and five assists for six points. Linemates Hirose and Khodorenko are tied for second, each with two goals and three assists for five points.
Junior right wing Cody Milan is fourth in scoring with one goal and three assists for four points. Last season, Milan had five points (one goal, four assists) in 24 games.
IN THE BIG TEN: In the biggest upset in all of college hockey on Friday, No. 11 Penn State lost to American International College, 3-2 in overtime, in South Bend. The Nittany Lions (3-3, 1-1 Big Ten) won the series opener, 7-5 on Friday.
No. 8 Minnesota (3-2, 1-1) built a 2-0 lead in the third period and held on for a 2-1 victory over No. 4 North Dakota (3-1-1) in the non-conference series opener in Grand Forks. The teams play again on Saturday.
No. 6 Wisconsin overcame deficits of 3-1 and 4-2 and rallied to tie the game 4-4 with two third-periods goals, but Northern Michigan won it, 5-4, on a goal with 56 seconds left in overtime in a non-conference game in Green Bay.
The game-winner was scored just as a Badgers penalty expired. The teams play again on Saturday, also in Green Bay.
In Mel Pearson’s Michigan coaching debut at home, the Wolverines (2-1) skated to a 4-1 victory over Vermont, outshooting the Catamounts, 45-16, at the newly-named Red Berenson Rink at Yost Arena.
The game was scoreless until Will Lockwood’s unassisted goal 15 minutes into the second period. Freshman Josh Norris missed a penalty shot in the first period but scored two goals in the third period to wrap up the victory. The series concludes on Saturday.
Joe Wegwerth scored two goals on Friday as Notre Dame rebounded from Thursday’s stunning 6-4 loss to Sacred Heart (2-3) and salvaged a series split with a 3-1 victory in South Bend.
On Thursday, the No. 5 Irish (3-2-1) carried a 3-2 lead into the third period, only to see Sacred Heart, of Atlantic Hockey, score four goals and pull out the victory. Vito Bavaro, a sophomore from Sarasota, Fla., had three goals for the Pioneers.
Ohio State (2-1-2) ended a three-game winless streak with a 3-1 victory at Massachusetts. The Buckeyes broke a 1-1 tie on standout forward Mason Jobst’s power-play goal midway through the second period. He scored another goal on a power play early in the third period. The teams play again on Saturday.