Neil's Notebook: A Second Look at the Series Sweep of Robert Morris
Oct. 31, 2011
by Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer
It had to be a sweep. Anything else would have unacceptable and left a bad taste going into a new week with no games to play on the weekend.
Michigan State was determined not to let Robert Morris spoil things in Saturday's non-conference series finale and set out to work hard and execute in a bid for its first sweep of the season. With linemates Lee Reimer, Greg Wolfe and Mike Merrifield providing the offensive sizzle, the Spartans wore down the visitors from Pittsburgh and broke open a tight game with three goals in the third period to earn a 6-2 victory and coveted series sweep at Munn Arena.
Reimer, Wolfe and Merrifield each enjoyed his finest night in a Spartan uniform as they combined for five goals and eight assists for 13 points, capping MSU's highest-scoring weekend of the season -- 11 goals. Despite the impressive scoring stats, the Spartans were more caught up in getting the sweep, and improving the team's overall record to 4-4.
"We really wanted to get this sweep, especially with the break coming up,'' said Reimer, a sophomore center Landmark, Manitoba, who on Saturday scored three goals and had two assists for a five-point game.
"For me, it was just staying focused and being ready to play. My line had a lot of jump, as did the whole team. We were working hard in the corners, my linemates made good passes out front and we got some bounces.''
Wolfe, a junior right wing from Canton, had a career-high four assists and senior left wing Merrifield, who's from Beverly Hills, Mich., chipped in with a pair of goals and two assists, also a career high in points.
In Friday's 5-2 win in the series opener, junior Dean Chelios was the left wing with Reimer and Wolfe and the trio combined for three goals and eight points. Wolfe had two goals and an assist, Chelios had a goal and two assists and Reimer collected a pair of assists.
But Chelios suffered an arm injury late in the game and sat out Saturday. Merrifield was moved into Chelios' spot on Saturday and looked right at home.
After Reimer scored both of MSU's two goals in the first period, Merrifield gave the Spartans the lead for good at 7:13 of the second, with Wolfe and Reimer assisting.
Reimer, who had two goals and seven points as a freshman, got his first collegiate had trick at 5:52 of the third period to give the Spartans a 4-2 cushion. Freshman right wing Matt Berry scored his first collegiate goal at 16:27 and Merrifield, who had a goal and assist on Friday, closed the scoring with two minutes left.
"I stepped into Cheli's spot and started jelling and we kept it going. We just buried our opportunities,'' Merrifield said. "Toward the end of last season, I got put with Reimer and Wolfe but that ended pretty quickly when we ended up losing to Alaska in the playoffs.
"Since we played together before, I felt real comfortable jumping in. We kind of found each other.''
Reimer's lines contributed eight goals and 13 assists for 21 points in the two games against the Colonials.
The Spartans had only one sweep last season and it didn't come until the final weekend of the regular season - 2-1 and 2-0 against Bowling Green at Munn Munn.
"I'm really happy for our team that we got out of the series on the winning side, and now we can let it linger for a while as we recharge our batteries,'' MSU coach Tom Anastos said. "(The sweep) might have been weighing on the guys, and they really wanted to get this one. I could hear a little chatter about it on the bench. This was a big step in our mentality and the way we approached the game, from last weekend to this weekend.''
A week ago, MSU defeated Ohio State 3-0 in the series opener, but had to settle for a split when the Buckeyes lifted their game up a notch and won the finale, 5-2.
"This was a good 60 minutes of effort,'' Anastos said after Saturday's victory. "It's neat that we get a break because the guys have worked really, really hard and we've really pushed them. They deserve a break.''
OFFENSIVE BREAKOUT: The last time MSU scored 11 goals in a two-game series was against Lake Superior State on Jan. 4-5, 2008 - an 8-3 victory and 3-3 tie at home. The Spartans scored 12 goals in a 6-2, 6-2 sweep of Mercyhurst on Nov. 9-10, 2007.
Anastos said he was impressed by the way the Reimer and Wolfe worked together with Chelios on Friday and then Merrifield one night later.
"They were a dominant bunch. They had played pretty well up until now and they had a great coming-out party this weekend,'' Anastos said. "It was tough losing Dean [Chelios], because he's evolving as a player and plays a style where he possesses the puck and the other guys have good speed and skill.
"When Dean went down, I was fooling around with different ideas. I guess the Merrifield thing went OK. He brings a different dynamic. He's quick, he forechecks and goes hard to the net.
"You get rewarded when you go into the tough spots, which are in front of the net. That's why those guys got so many goals.''
MORE STATS: Reimer's hat trick was the Spartans' first since defenseman Torey Krug scored three goals in a 4-3 win over Michigan at Munn Arena on Jan. 7, 2011. The last time a Spartan had four assists in a game was on Oct. 29, 2005, by forward Bryan Lerg in a 4-3 win at Cornell.
Former Spartan captain and standout center Jim Slater was the last Spartan to get five points in a game. He had two goals and three assists in a 7-3 victory over Western Michigan in Kalamazoo on Oct. 25, 2003.
Not surprisingly, Reimer has taken over the MSU scoring lead with five goals and six assists for 11 points, one ahead of Wolfe, who has four goals and 10 points.
Reimer, tied for third in CCHA overall scoring, has already passed his scoring totals from his rookie season when he had two goals and five assists for seven points. Wolfe had 11 points as a freshman - three goals and eight assists.
Spartan penalty killers gave up two power-play goals in 10 chances on Friday but blanked RMU on Saturday. The Colonials went 0-for-4. MSU has skated off 33 of 37 opponents' power plays (89.2 percent), good for third in the CCHA and No. 7 nationally.
The power play, which went 2-for-10 against RMU, is 7-for-36 (19.4) and ranks fifth in the CCHA.
EIGHT GAMES DOWN: The Spartans came finished the first month of the season with a .500 record. They started with a loss to Boston College, now ranked No. 1 in the nation, then defeated Air Force in overtime. A week later, MSU got swept at Lake Superior State.
Finally playing at home, the Spartans topped OSU in the series opener but lost the finale. But they climbed to 4-4 with two solid wins over Atlantic Hockey's Robert Morris.
After taking this weekend off, it's back on the road for four CCHA games - two at Western Michigan and two at Northern Michigan. Then it's back home to play Minnesota in a non-league series Thanksgiving weekend, and two CCHA home contests against Bowling Green, Dec. 3-4.
"We've made our share of mistakes but I can't say it was because of a lack of effort,'' Anastos said. "We've played eight games and worked hard all the time. "We're finding our way.''
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