Neil’s Notebook: Spartans Win Another Close One at Munn
Notes, quotes and analysis from Neil Koepke on Friday's win over LSSU.
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
EAST LANSING – When sophomore left wing Logan Lambdin scored 79 seconds into the third period to give Michigan State a 4-0 lead, nobody thought the goal would end up as the game-winner.
But hockey can be a funny game. Bad bounces, penalties, good shots and tip-ins and a momentum shift can change the complexion of a game quickly.
Instead of being on the verge of a one-side victory, the Spartans on Friday found themselves in a one-goal hockey game and had to play well and smart in the final six minutes to claim a 4-3 victory over Lake Superior State in front of 3,499 fans at Munn Arena.
“One play turned into two goals and then it’s a ballgame,’’ MSU coach Danton Cole said. “And then they get a good tip on the power play and it’s 4-3.
“But I thought our guys did a good job in the last 5 ½ - 6 minutes. We didn’t give up many shots and any (good) scoring chances. After that (third) goal, it was good that we defensed it and didn’t panic.’’
On goals by Sam Saliba in the first period, Patrick Khodorenko and Jake Smith in the second and Lambdin early in the third, the Spartans (3-2 overall) seemed to be in complete control against the Lakers (1-4-2, 0-1-1 WCHA).
Momentum, however, changed quickly.
Just 36 seconds after Lambdin’s first goal of the season, the play was in the MSU zone and a delayed penalty was coming up on Lambdin for tripping. A few seconds after the referee put his hand in the air, the Lakers, with possession, scored on a close-in shot by sophomore left wing Brayden Gelsinger.
Under college rules, the goal didn’t wipe out the penalty to Lambdin, who found himself in the penalty box at 1:55. LSSU capitalized late into the power to cut its deficit to 4-2 on sophomore left wing Bryan Basilico’s goal at 3:49.
After the Spartans missed a few quality scoring chances on a power play – from 6:15 to 8:15- Lake Superior State made the game really interesting when sophomore right wing Max Humitz tipped in a shot at 13:14 to make it 4-3 and throw a scare into the Spartans.
But goalie John Lethemon (19 saves) made a couple of routine saves but didn’t face any point-blank shots the rest of the way, as MSU played solid defense and kept the Lakers from threatening.
The victory was MSU’s third straight at home after winning only two games at Munn Arena last season. The last time the Spartans won their first three home games was in 2009-10.
Michigan State will try for a sweep of the non-conference series with Lake Superior State when they meet at 7 p.m. Saturday at Munn Arena.
Other than the stretch early in the third period, Cole liked the way his team played on Friday.
“There were some ebbs and flows. We started OK but then we started going back with pucks, and our forwards didn’t get some pucks in. But after five minutes we settled down and played some good hockey,’’ Cole said. “The guys moved the puck and stayed with things.
“I’ll take a 4-0 lead anytime, but then weird things started happening. We’re going to find ourselves in these situations and I’d rather be battling to protect a lead than trying to tie it up.’’
When the Lakers surged in the third period, Cole said he didn’t think it was necessary to call a time out to get his team to regroup.
“I didn’t sense any real panic or that we’re a young team and let’s settle them down or change their diapers or anything like that,’’ the Spartans coach said. “I thought we were all right.
“I didn’t think there was any need for (a timeout). I kind of go back and forth on that. I don’t mind not using my timeout. After whistles with the U.S. teams, the guys would look over and we’d just say ‘we’re in good shape, no need for a timeout.’
“Now, there’s going to be a right time. But (tonight) we wanted to project that ‘hey, we’re playing pretty well.’ It was a 4-2 hockey game and things happen and you deal with it and move on.’’
The Spartans moved on, nothing bizarre happened in the final minutes and another hard-earned victory was claimed.
“We did build on our lead (to start the third period), but give credit to Lake State for pushing back with a couple of power-play goals. But I liked how we responded and held them off at the end,’’ said sophomore center Saliba, who scored his third goal of the season with a tap-in of defenseman Carson Gatt’s rebound late in the opening period.
“I liked our defensive game most of the night. We had 41 shots on goal and didn’t give up a lot. Overall, we defended well, we communicated well and had pretty good zone exits.’’
MSU’s next challenge is to get a sweep of the series, which would be the Spartans’ first since winning two games at Wisconsin in February, 2016 – 4-3 and 3-1. Their last home sweep was in the same season – 5-0 and 7-4 victories over New Hampshire on Nov. 5-6, 2015.
How does the coaching staff prepare their team to follow up on Friday’s success with another strong effort on Saturday and the opportunity to push the Spartans’ record to 4-2 overall?
“You try to set the tone right afterwards. You give them a couple of things to think about,’’ Cole said. “The first is to make sure that physically you get yourself ready. You get food and water in you and get your rest. That’s paramount.
“The second is understanding that we played a good game tonight and that (LSSU) is going to be – much like Western Michigan was last week – a desperate team, and they feel like they just ran out of time. We need to get back to the way we want to play.’’
Lambdin had one goal and one assist, Saliba scored one goal and Milan helped set up Lambdin’s goal. The line combined for 11 shots on goal
Patrick Khodorenko scored MSU’s second goal midway through the second period from the right circle, set up by linemates Taro Hirose and Mitchell Lewandowski. Khodorenko had six shots and Lewandowski three on goal.
Khodorenko has a team-leading four goals and each member of the line has a team-high seven points – Khodorenko at 4-3-7, Hirose with 2-5-7 and Lewandowski at 1-6-7, all in five games.
The all-freshman line of Gino Esteves centering left wing Jake Smith and right wing David Keefer worked hard in the offensive zone to produce the Spartans’ third goal. The trio combined for seven shots on goal.
Smith scored his first collegiate goal and point when an errant LSSU pass in the Lakers’ zone landed on his stick. His wrist shot beat goalie Nick Kossoff from the slot over his catching glove to the top left corner at 16:53 of the second period. Keefer and Esteves were on the ice but didn’t pick up assists because the puck changed hands.
Freshman defenseman Tommy Miller made a good play in coming off the bench to keep the puck in the LSSU zone at the right point. In a few seconds, the puck was on Smith’s stick.
“That was nice,’’ Cole said of MSU’s balanced scoring. “Smitty has a great shot. We’ve seen that quite a bit – he can come down and snipe top shelf. (Kossoff) is a pretty good goalie and he’s a really big kid. That’s a tough place to beat him.
“Sammy popped in another one and with Logan, that was really a goal off a forecheck and transition, so we’re going to need that. To win a decent amount of games, we’ll need other lines to help out Khodorenko’s line.’’
Smith, a 5-foot-9, 179-pound rookie from East Amherst, N.Y., was thrilled to get his first career goal, and Lambdin, a 5-8, 174-pound sophomore from Newport, Mich., was feeling chipper about his first goal of the season and a two-point night.
“It felt really good to get the first one. It’s something you’ve dreamed about since you were a kid,’’ Smith said. “Our line was really going all night, getting chances early. We were feeling pretty good and we knew one was going to come for us.
“We had them hemmed in their zone and I kind of looped back from the high slot and the puck went off one of their players and went right on my stick. I just took a step to my left, shot it high, glove side and luckily it went in. It’s all a blur from there.’’
Lambdin, who had six goals and 12 points in 34 games last season, was also in the right spot to give his team a 4-0 lead at 1:19 of the third period.
“Cody (Milan) walked out in front and found an (open) area and shot. It hit (the goalie’s) pad and bounced out to me in front, and I found the open net on the right side,’’ he said. “It’s still early but it feels good to get my first one. I think I’ve started to adapt to the system and am playing the right way.’’
THE LAKERS’ VIEW: Despite making the game close with three straight goals in the third period, Lake Superior State coach Damon Whitten was critical of his team’s overall play.
“We were really poor to start the game, really poor. Unprepared to play,’’ said Whitten, a Michigan State forward from 1997-2001. “Give (MSU) credit. They won footraces, they outworked us and the won the 50-50 puck battles.
“We weren’t good enough, flat out. Obviously, we showed some resilience and push back, but way too late. I don’t care who you play. If you only show up for one period or a half a period, you’re going to lose hockey games. We need to be a heckuva lot better for 60 minutes.’’
IN THE BIG TEN: Michigan and Penn State hooked up in a see-saw battle in University Park, Pa., that featured nine goals, 54 shots on goal and the game-winning goal scored in the first minute of overtime.
The No. 15 Nittany Lions (4-3, 2-1 Big Ten) rallied from 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3 deficits and tied the game 4-4 with 1:32 left in the third period, and then won it, 5-4, on a goal by Jake Gober 53 seconds into overtime.
Penn State outshot the Wolverines 54-35 and 19-15 in the third period. Dexter Dancs scored two goals for Michigan (3-2, 0-1).
Minnesota, Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Ohio State all won non-conference games on Friday.
The No. 7 Gophers (4-3, 1-1) topped No. 9 Clarkson 4-1 in Minneapolis in a game that was scoreless until late in the second period when Minnesota took a 1-0 lead. The Gophers led 3-0 late in the third period but the Golden Knights (4-2-1) spoiled goalie Eric Shierhorn’s shutout bid with a goal with 1:18 left in the game.
The No. 5 Badgers (6-2, 2-1-1) posted a 4-2 win over St. Lawrence (0-7) in Madison as Seamus Malone broke a 2-2 tie with a power-play goal at 14:42 of the second period. Wisconsin added a goal with 7:05 left in the final period.
No. 8 Notre Dame (4-3-1, 0-0) rebounded from Thursday’s 6-4 loss to Nebraska-Omaha and earned a series split with a 5-4 win over the Mavericks on Friday in South Bend.
Ohio State extended its winning streak to three games with a 5-3 victory over Robert Morris on Friday in Columbus. The Buckeyes are undefeated in their last five games at 3-0-1. The teams meet again on Saturday at Robert Morris.