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Neil's Notebook: Senior Linemates Step Up In Win

Villiam Haag scored his first-career goal on Friday.

Nov. 2, 2013

By Neil Koepke staff writer

EAST LANSING - In Michigan State's first victory of the season last Saturday, the heroes included freshman Joe Cox, junior Brent Darnell and sophomore goalie Jake Hildebrand.

They played major roles in the Spartans' 3-2 win over Boston University. Darnell and Cox had the tying and winning goals and Hildebrand made several clutch saves.

On Friday, it was a night for a pair of seniors to stand out, as captain and right wing Greg Wolfe and center Lee Reimer ignited a 5-4 victory over American International College (AIC) at Munn Arena.

Linemates Wolfe and Reimer provided offense with a goal and assist apiece, lots of shots on goal, played well at both ends of the ice and had key roles in trying to hold off the Yellow Jackets' late rally.

"It's good to have different guys chipping in every night,'' said Reimer, whose shorthanded goal midway through the second period gave the Spartans a 4-1 lead. "We got some good bounces. My goal just happened to go in. It was a good win, but we got a bit sloppy in the end.''

The Spartans got some offensive help from a pair of freshmen roommates - JT Stenglund and Villiam Haag - scoring their first collegiate goals each with rocket-like shots from the left and right circles, respectively.

Stenglein scored on a power play in the second period to give MSU a 2-0 lead, and Haag made it 3-1 early in the second period. Sophomore Michael Ferrantino opened the scoring five minutes into the game, set up with a perfect pass by senior Dean Chelios on a 2-on-1 rush.



"It says we have a lot of depth with our lines,'' Wolfe said of balanced offense. "We had two freshmen get their first goals and that's great for them to come in and contribute, and our line (with Reimer and sophomore Ryan Keller) is starting to jell.''

Said Reimer: "Wolfie and I have played together our whole careers (at MSU), and Keller is really fast and gets in the corners and works hard. He's helping us control things in the offensive zone.''

The Keller-Reimer-Wolfe line combined for 13 of MSU's 47 shots on goal. Wolfe had six, Keller four and Reimer three.

The Spartans (2-3) built a 5-1 lead early in the third period when Wolfe pounced on Reimer's rebound in front of the net and spun around and slid the puck into the right corner.

Wolfe, who has a team-high four goals, never dreamed that his goal would stand as the game-winner.

"No, I did not. It's a good thing I got it,'' Wolfe said. "We have to put teams away and not let them back in the game.''

American International cut MSU's lead to 5-2 on Sean Federow's power-play goal at 8:44 of the final period. The Yellow Jackets made the Spartans and Munn Arena crowd squirm a bit just 2 minutes and 32 seconds later when Jake Williams converted a centering pass to make it 5-3.

MSU fought off AIC's surge until the final seconds when the Yellow Jackets scored on a 6-on-3 power play - two Spartans were in the penalty box and goalie Ty Reichenbach removed for a sixth attacker. Alexander MacMillan scored with 6.8 seconds and suddenly it was a one-goal game.

AIC was still on a power play, now with a one-man advantage and the net still empty for a 6-on-4 edge. After the faceoff at center ice, a Yellow Jacket defenseman actually got off a long shot from the neutral zone, and MSU goalie Jake Hildebrand had to move to his left to deflect it just as the buzzer sounded.

"I think we started to get a little lazy. We weren't playing our game,'' Reimer said. "We were making late line changes, little things like that and weren't as dialed in as we should have been for 60 minutes.

"We learned our lesson and got away with a win.''

Wolfe said the last 11 minutes of the third period clouded an otherwise strong performance.

"We were moving our feet, playing with speed, our zone entry was pretty good and our power play moved the puck around and it was nice to get a power-play goal,'' he said. "We put up five goals. I don't remember the last time we did that.

"We did a better job of getting guys in front of their goal. On Stenglein's goal, I don't think the goalie saw the puck.''

Down 5-1, the Yellow Jackets of Atlantic Hockey kept battling, and the Spartans helped open the door when Darnell took a hitting-after-the- whistle penalty along the boards in the offensive zone at 6:56, less than 90 seconds after Wolfe's goal.

When Federow scored, MSU's lead was down to three goals and reduced to two goals just 2:32 later.

"I don't think it was any major breakdown. The puck was bouncing around, we took some penalties and they got some shots,'' Wolfe said. "(Holding on to leads) has been a problem in the past and we're working on it. But their team worked hard and got some bounces at the end.

"They do a good job at clogging up the middle of the ice, so it's tough to get pucks to the middle when we're breaking out. We have to do a better job of getting pucks to the outside and attacking from the boards to the net.''

MSU coach Tom Anastos liked his team's play over the first two-and-half periods and that included the efforts of Reimer, Wolfe and Keller.

"That line was pretty good. Both Wolfie and Reimer are playing with good energy and Keller has added a good dynamic,'' Anastos said. "Keller's a good, hard forechecker.

"You need upperclassmen to be good performers and it was good to see them do that. They've been pretty consistent the last few weeks. Wolfe made subtle little plays, as did Reimer, that turned into big plays.

"Whether it was tipping the puck out of our zone, blocking a shot or doggin' someone down so they didn't have time to make a big play, those are little things that amount to big things.''

Wolfe leads the Spartans in scoring with four goals and one assist for five points, one head of defenseman Jake Chelios, who had an assist on Friday and has four for the season. Reimer is tied for third in scoring with a goal and two assists for three points.

FIRST COLLEGE GOALS: Freshmen forwards JT Stenglein and Villiam Haag are roommates and linemates, and on Friday they scored their first goals and points of their college careers.

Stenglein started it on a power play at 9:33 of the first period when his wrist shot from the left circle caught the top left corner of the net to give MSU a 2-0 lead.

Haag jumped into the spotlight at 3:06 of the second period, giving the Spartans a 3-1 lead. Haag got the puck from junior defenseman RJ Boyd, cruised into the AIC zone and let go with a slap shot from the right circle that found the top right corner.

Both rookies were relieved to end the pressure of getting their first goals as Spartans.

"It's something that's been building and I've been trying so hard to get it,'' said Stenglein, a 6-foot, 209-pound left wing from Greece, N.Y., which is just outside of Rochester. "It felt good in front of the student section. It's the most fun goal I've scored, to get your first college goal.

"I had some decent stats in juniors and some of the guys have giving it to me saying `why haven't you scored, why haven't you scored?' They're just messing with me, but it feels so good to get the first one.

Stenglein credited Lee Reimer for providing a perfect screen in front of AIC goaltender Ty Reichenbach.

"I got a good pass from (Jake) Chelios and Reimer had good net presence, something we talked about all week,'' he said. "I actually hit a (teammate) with a (similar shot) in practice this week. I got him on the knee, so it felt good to put it past him this time and get the monkey off my back.''

Stenglein was almost just excited to see Haag get his first goal early in the second period.

"He's trying to show me up. He's my roommate so I'll probably give it to him a little later,'' Stenglein said. "It was good to see him score. He gets really excited, I guess like all Europeans when they score. It was good to see the look on his face.''

For sure, Haag was thrilled to see the puck go in for the first time as a Spartan.

"You always want to score goals. That's why you play hockey,'' said Haag, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound right wing from Gothenburg, Sweden. "It was a big thing, here with the energy and with the crowd, it was just an amazing feeling.''

Plus, Haag had to keep up with his roommate.

"It was like `if he scores, then I have to score, too,''' Haag said with a laugh. "I think it was a lucky goal. I got the puck on my stick, carried it into the zone and I saw the defenseman didn't jump on me. So I kept going and tried a slap shot. I don't know if the goalie saw it.''

Haag and Stenglein played on a line with sophomore center Matt DeBlouw.

"I feel like since we came home from Massachusetts, I've got my confidence up,'' Stenglein said. "At UMass, I felt like I had to feel my way around, but in the UMass-Lowell game last week, I had three or four shots, and the next night (against BU), I was on the power play and was starting to play the way I usually do. Hopefully, I'll be able to start finding the net more in the next few weeks.''

Stenglein and Haag are the third and fourth rookie forwards to earn their first goals. Mackenzie MacEachern scored his first in last Friday's 4-1 loss to UMass-Lowell and Joe Cox got goal No. 1 with the game-winner last Saturday against Boston University.

"Those were nice shots. And those guys are shooters, `' MSU coach Tom Anastos said of Stenglein and Haag. "Hopefully, there are many more in their future. I'm sure they're happy, but you can't be satisfied if you score because you have to play a complete game.

"Those are things young players have to learn how to do. But it's good they're able to contribute, and this will help their confidence.''

THE GOOD AND THE BAD: For the first 48 minutes, there was a lot to like about the Spartans' game. But the last 12 minutes, in which MSU's lead went from 5-1 to 5-3 in less than three minutes and made for a hectic finish, changed Coach Tom Anastos take on the game.

"We gave them life when at a certain point they didn't have much of it,'' he said. "But to their credit, they didn't stop playing hard. They took a little bit and turned it into a lot.

"We're fortunate we can enjoy the win but it's hard to enjoy it because we know there are things we have to clean up to get better. I don't think everybody is walking out of here feeling great about the win, although it's good to win.''

Over the first two periods and part of the third, Anastos liked what he saw.

"We created some good transition on offense, had some 3-on-2s, and 2-on-1s, and even scored on a 2-on-1 and had 47 shots on goal and 81 attempts,'' he said "We were playing with discipline. Those are positive things for our game.

"We had some rhythm going. We were rolling four lines and a lot of good stuff was happening. Then it started to get away from us. We took a hitting-after-the-whistle penalty and that changed the momentum. They get one, they have jump and you're starting to scramble a bit.''

But the Spartans survived and will have a lot to think about in practice on Saturday morning and afterward, as they prepare for Sunday's series finale.

SPARTAN POTPOURRI: Wolfe and Reimer weren't the only Spartans to get two points. Junior defenseman RJ Boyd also had two as he assisted on Haag's goal and Reimer's shorthanded goal, both in the second period . . . Freshman defenseman Brock Krygier was on the ice for three MSU goals and none for the opposition to finish the game with a plus-3. He leads the Spartans in plus-minus with a plus-5 in five games. . . . The last time the Spartans scored five goals was last season in a 5-3 win over Penn State on Jan. 25. MSU scored more than four goals only three times last season - in a 6-1 win over Bowling Green on Nov. 3, a 7-2 victory over Michigan on Nov. 10 and in the Penn State game . . . The Spartans' 47 shots on goal on Friday vs. AIC were more than in any game last season. Their highest output was 43 against Northern Michigan in a 4-2 victory on Feb. 16. In fact, the 47-shot outing is the highest output in Anastos' two-plus seasons at MSU. The last time the Spartans had more than 47 shots on goal was on Feb. 11, 2011, in a 4-2 loss to Northern Michigan at Munn Arena. Jared Coreau, now a Red Wings' prospect, was in goal for the Wildcats. ... Former Spartan Derek Grant earned his first NHL point on Friday with an assist for the Ottawa Senators in their 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Islanders. Grant, who played at MSU from 2009-2011, has appeared in six games this season for the Senators. . . . Meanwhile, ex-Spartan Justin Abdelkader scored the winning goal for the Red Wings in a 4-3 win at Calgary. Abdelkader has two goals and two assists for four points in 16 games this season.

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