Neil's Notebook: Night of Firsts for Spartans in Win Over Princeton
Notes, quotes and analysis from Neil Koepke on MSU's 6-2 victory.
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
EAST LANSING -- It was a night of firsts for Michigan State.
The list is long, it brought lots of smiles and satisfaction and made for the best game of the young hockey season for the Spartans.
Most importantly, MSU (1-4) played well on offense, defense and in goal and got rewarded with its first victory of the year -- a 6-2 win over Princeton on Friday night at Munn Arena.
Six Spartans scored goals and there were milestones all over the place:
Freshman left wing Taro Hirose scored his first collegiate goal in the second period, shorthanded off a great pass by linemate Mason Appleton, a sophomore right wing. It turned out to be the winner and made up for what appeared to be his first goal midway through the first period, also shorthanded. But the goal was waved off after video review because his slap shot from the slot clanked off the crossbar and never entered the net.
Goalie Ed Minney, a junior who was just making his fourth career start and third this season, earned his first collegiate win with a with a sharp 21 save-performance.
Junior defenseman Carson Gatt found the back of the net for the first time in 69 career games for his first college goal with a simple wrist shot from the left circle midway through the second period to extend MSU's lead to 4-2.
Joe Cox, the Spartans' senior captain and right wing, scored his first goal of the season midway through the third period to complete his team's scoring for the night.
Brennan Sanford, a sophomore left wing from East Lansing, gave MSU a 2-0 lead 32 seconds into the second period with his first goal of 2016-17.
Dylan Pavelek, a junior right wing, picked up his first career assist on his team's fifth goal -- by freshman Logan Lambdin - with 14 seconds left in the second period. He's scored three goals in 41 games but was looking for his first helper and he got it.
For the first time this season, the Spartans took a lead. Villiam Haag, perched on the edge of the crease, took a perfect feed from Appleton and tapped the puck into the net on a power play at 3:58 of the first period to give his team a 1-0 lead.
Meanwhile, the last time the Spartans scored at least six goals was in a 7-4 victory over New Hampshire last season -- Nov. 7, 2015, as they completed a sweep of the Wildcats from Hockey East.
"I liked the energy that we played with all game long. It starts there -- playing with pace and energy,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "I think we can skate and get up and down the ice. When we stand around, like any team, you'll be watching and things aren't going to go your way.''
Most things went the Spartans' way on Friday.
They scored one power-play goal, one shorthanded and four even strength.
Cox had a team-leading five shots on goal, Sanford had four and Patrick Khodorenko, Appleton and Gatt each had three.
"You have no idea,'' Cox said about the relief he felt in scoring for the first time this season. "I think I could have had three if I would have beared down a little. Hopefully, that will jump start things.''
For Cox, the best part about Friday night was the scoreboard.
"Getting that W because it's going to give the guys confidence. I don't think it's enough to play good against Denver and get swept,'' he said. "Once the guys see that we put up six goals and got the win, it's going to do wonders for this team.''
For sure, the Spartans were playing a Princeton team that was playing its first game and picked for 12th (last) in the Eastern College Athletic Conference preseason poll.
After Haag and Sanford staked MSU to a 2-0 lead early in the second period, the Tigers trimmed their deficit to a goal with sophomore right wing Alex Riche scoring from close in at 3:28.
Hirose and Gatt converted at 5:40 and 9:06 to boost the Spartans' lead to 4-1.
Riche got his second of the night at 14:22 to make it 4-2, but Thomas Ebbing got a loose puck that senior goalie Colton Phinney failed to stop behind the net and centered it into the slot to a wide-open Lambdin, and he didn't miss to boost the lead to 5-2.
Cox said the Spartans are a much different team than from two weeks ago when they were swept at Lake Superior State, 6-1 and 7-3.
"I think we're miles from then. You can see it in how the guys are playing -- they're calm, composed and our systems are better,'' he said. "We're playing fast and with no hesitation.''
Since the MSU-Princeton matchup was for only one game, the Spartans are off on Saturday, and resume non-conference play with a series against Michigan Tech next Friday at Saturday, both at 7 p.m. at Munn Arena.
"It was nice to see six pucks go into the net and how we generated our opportunities,'' Anastos said. "I liked that we had a little more net-front presence, which resulted in Sanford's goal, Cox's goal and Villiam (Haag's) goal on the power play. We have to get better in that area and there was an improvement tonight.
"We got contributions from all four lines. The (Connor) Wood line (with Cody Milan and Sanford) continues to grow. It was nice to see Gatt get rewarded after his few seasons. The puck finally went in for him.''
Of course, there were areas to clean up. There were mistakes here and there and those will be pointed out next week in practice.
"There were parts of our game that I really liked at times and parts that I didn't that we have to improve on a great deal,'' Anastos said. "That's part of having a young team like we have.
"We got some good looks from our defense, contributions from our blue line and up front. It's a sign of progress.''
HIROSE STANDS OUT: Taro Hirose, a 5-foot-10, 160-pound rookie from Calgary, had the best game of his college career. He played a regular shift with linemates Mason Appleton and Patrick Khodorenko, saw time on the power play at the left point and killed penalties with Appleton.
Midway through the opening period, a Tiger defenseman lost the puck in the left circle in the MSU zone, the puck squirted loose and slid right to Hirose in the slot. Hirose let go with slap shot that sailed high over the left shoulder of Princeton goalie Colton Phinney and appeared to go into the net and carom out, off he back bar.
The referee standing to the left of the net signaled goal. But after it was reviewed, the ruling was that the puck hit the crossbar and never entered the net.
"I thought it was in at first but the more I thought about it, I thought maybe it didn't go in,'' Hirose said. "I was just trying to get in good position when the puck came out. But you have to bounce back. That's what I did and buried my next chance."
Hirose shrugged it off and in the second period, he and Appleton knocked the puck loose while killing a penalty and they raced down the ice on a 2-on-1. Hirose, steaming down the left with the puck, fed Appleton in the slot and when Phinney squared up to face Appleton, the MSU sophomore slid the puck back to Hirose, who reached out and shot it into the left corner.
"It feels good to get the first one, but to contribute to the first way, that feels even better,'' he said. "It was good to see all the guys get pumped up (over our goals). Gatter got his first, I got mine. Once we get everything going, this team is going to be really good.
"I thought our team really came together and we stuck with our systems. We practiced well all week and it showed. I thought our line was buzzing tonight. We had a good start and it carried on the rest of the game.''
The Khodorenko line, with Hirose and Appleton on the wings, combines skill and speed. All it needs are more practices, more games and some more chemistry to be a consistently productive unit.
"I think that the chemistry is really building. We have to build up our speed, and we're working on that in practice,'' Hirose said.
Appleton and Hirose look like they can be an offensive threat while killing penalties. They seem capable of creating dangerous odd-man rushes.
"It's a great opportunity for me and I just have to seize it and play as well as I can. We've got some good offensive skills but our first mindset is defense. Killing the penalty is the first priority. If we can get goals, that's a bonus.''
Anastos said that the Khodorenko line continues to improve and meshes well together.
"I liked that line tonight. Patrick Khodorenko took a step with his game. He played with a higher level of pace and I thought he made an impact,'' the Spartan coach said. "Appleton is playing with good pace and confidence. He was stirring it up a lot.
"That tandem (of Appleton and Hirose) was good on the PK. They give you a certain dynamic, but their focus has to be on killing the penalty. But if the opportunity presents itself, they play off each other very well.''
MINNEY GETS HIS W: Ed Minney got the start Friday and he delivered his second consecutive strong outing, making 21 saves -- seven in each period -- in recording his first career victory as a Spartan.
Minney didn't have to make many standout saves but he did make a few excellent saves to keep his team on the path to victory.
"He made some important saves tonight. That's good for him and for the whole team to build a confidence around him,'' Anastos said. "He looked good. That's his first career win so it's a big step for his confidence as well.
Minney, a 6-foot-5, 197-pound junior from Wind Gap, Pa., but who grew up in Georgia and Columbus, Ohio, was making his third start of the season and fourth of his career. He played very well in last Friday's 2-1 loss to Denver.
"He's been really good,'' said junior defenseman Carson Gatt. The one thing that maybe goes unnoticed is his puck-playing ability. He makes it easy on the defensemen. When that puck gets dumped in, he's able to come out and play it, and in the process, he saves a lot of defensemen from getting hit.
"He's been great post-to-post on the penalty kill, and he's really talking to us out there.''
HE SHOOTS, GATT SCORES: Carson Gatt's strength is that of a stay-at-home defenseman, but it's nice for any player to take a shot and see the puck go into the net and the red light flash.
Gatt got the pleasure of seeing his team's defensive corps play a solid game and, as a bonus, he got his first goal of his career while playing in his 68th game as a Spartan.
Gatt, a 6-1, 207-pound junior from South Lyon, got the puck from Thomas Ebbing along the left boards and moved into the left circle and, without much of an opening to shoot at, he wristed the puck toward goalie Colton Phinney.
Gatt's low shot went past a few players in front and eluded Phinney at 9:06 of the second period to give MSU a 4-1 lead.
"It was great, especially with the win,'' Gatt said. "It was a great play by Thomas. We did a little switch and roll and he left me with the puck. I came down the (left side) and I thought `just throw it at the net.'
"Coach is always saying hit the net and good things will happen.''
Good things did happen. Gatt got his goal and the Spartans went on to their first victory, ignited by a strong all-around effort and good execution.
"This is big. It's going to be big for our momentum and our confidence,'' Gatt said. "We played well last weekend but we came out on the short end. Our goaltending has been great the last three games.
"We're playing good defense and to get that offense going, I think we're in a good spot.''
Next weekend will be bigger challenge because Michigan Tech has a strong defense and plays a high-tempo style. The Huskies lost and tied at Michigan last weekend, in two games they could have won. On Friday, Michigan Tech (2-5-2) blanked Northern Michigan, 2-0. The two teams play again on Saturday.
"We'll keep focusing on us and fine-tuning our game,'' said Gatt, who now has one goal and 10 assists for 11 career points. "If we play up to our ability, we can play with anyone.''
SHOWDOWN FOR NO. 1: In the battle of the top two ranked teams in the nation, No. 2 Minnesota-Duluth defeated No. 1 North Dakota, 5-2, in a National Collegiate Hockey Conference game (NCHC) on Friday in Duluth.
The Bulldogs (4-1-2) surged to a 3-0 lead midway through the second period, but the Fighting Hawks (5-1) scored two late goals in the period to trim the deficit to 3-2. UMD scored at 8:32 of the third period to boost its lead to 4-2 and the Bulldogs added an empty-net goal with 29 seconds left
Senior left wing Alex Iafallo scored three goals for Minnesota-Duluth, one in each period, including the empty-netter. Iafallo, an NHL free agent, has five goals and eight points in seven games.
The two teams meet again on Saturday in Duluth.
IN THE BIG TEN: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State posted non-conference victories against Eastern opponents, but Michigan's trip out East wasn't so fruitful.
The Gophers (3-2) trailed Clarkson 3-0 after the first period but rallied to tie it 3-3 with two goals in the second and one early in the third. In overtime, Leon Bristedt won it for Minnesota, 4-3, with a goal 1:57 into the extra period on Friday in Potsdam, N.Y.
Just 12 miles down the road in Canton, N.Y., the Badgers (3-2) broke a 2-2 tie with three unanswered goals to pull out a 5-2 victory over St. Lawrence (3-4).
Minnesota and Wisconsin trade opponents for Saturday, with the Gophers playing at St. Lawrence and the Badgers visiting Clarkson.
Ohio State had the honor of scoring the most goals of all the games on Friday with a 10-1 romp over Niagara (0-4-2) in Lewiston, N.Y. Nick Schilkey, a senior left wing, scored three goals for the Buckeyes (4-0-2). OSU scored four goals in the first period and five in the second.
The Buckeyes (4-0-2) are one of three unbeaten teams in the nation among teams who have played. The others are Lake Superior State (5-0) and Harvard (1-0). Yale and Dartmouth open their seasons on Saturday.
OSU and Niagara meet again on Saturday
Penn State (4-1-1), starting a 10-game home stand through Dec. 2, topped Canisius, 4-1. The two teams conclude their series on Saturday. The Griffins fall to 2-4-1.
Michigan was the only conference team that lost on Friday. The Wolverines (3-2-1) were blanked 3-0 by Vermont (3-1-1), in Burlington. The Catamounts outshot Michigan, 42-21. U-M finishes its road trip with a visit to Dartmouth (0-0) in Hanover, N.H., on Saturday.