Neil’s Notebook: OT Finally Goes Spartans’ Way vs. Michigan Tech
Neil Koepke breaks down the Spartans 3-2 OT win over Michigan Tech.
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
EAST LANSING – OK, so this overtime thing Michigan State has going with Michigan Tech is kind of getting a little crazy.
Going into the latest Spartans-Huskies battle, the teams had played five straight overtime games, going back to Nov. 9, 2013, in Houghton.
On Friday night, nothing changed.
Once again, the teams couldn’t decide anything in 60 minutes. So, make it six overtime games in row.
This one, however, was more to the Spartans’ liking.
After going 0-3-2 in overtime in the last five matchups with Michigan Tech, Michigan State (2-4) finally came out on the winning side with an entertaining, dramatic 3-2 victory in the first game of a non-conference series at Munn Arena.
Sophomore right wing Mason Appleton capped the best game of his college career with the game-winning goal, on a power play at 1:22 of the extra period.
Appleton and freshman Taro Hirose passed the puck back and forth near the right point before Appleton found an opening. He moved in toward the right circle and let go with a slap shot that eluded goalie Angus Redmond¬¬¬¬¬, and ignited a wild celebration in the right corner.
Without question, Appleton was the Spartans’ hero of the night as he set up MSU’s first goal by defenseman Zach Osburn in the first period and scored a power-play goal with a wrist shot from the right wing boards late in the second to tie it, 2-2.
“It seems like we go into overtime every time we play them so it’s nice to be on the right side of it,’’ MSU coach Tom Anastos said. “I continue to be encouraged by the growth of our team.
“Michigan Tech is a very good team and hard to play against. It was one of those games with a lot of infighting and the play going back and forth. We competed hard and showed a lot of poise. It’s a building block. We got a lot of good experience tonight.’’
And some excellent performances by a number of players, especially Appleton up front and Osburn on defense.
Appleton, a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder from Green Bay, has said that he doesn’t want to be known as just a pure playmaker or a pure goal-scorer. He wants to be a complete player, a consistent offensive threat.
Well, both aspects of his game were present on Friday. He was the catalyst for all three MSU goals – one with a perfect shot/pass from the right boards to set up Osburn’s goal and two clutch shots on power plays late in the second period and early in OT.
“I wanted to be more of a scorer this year and I put a lot of effort into improving my shot in the off-season,’’ said Appleton, who last season as a freshman had five goals and 17 assists for 22 points in 37 games.
“Tonight, we had a shot-first mentality on the power play. Sometimes, we pass the puck too much and get (too) pretty. We focused on making small, little plays and getting the puck on net.’’
The Spartans were a perfect 2-for-2 on the power play, which has been mostly ineffective through the first six games. Michigan Tech (3-6-2) was 1-for-3.
Appleton, 20, who has at least one point in five of MSU’s six games, is the Spartans’ top scorer with three goals and five assists for eight points.
“Mason is playing with a lot of confidence. He’s worked hard on his shot, he’s getting it off quickly and it’s finding its way in,’’ Anastos said. “I want him to shoot more.’’
Last season, Michigan State saw three late leads disappear against Michigan Tech, and the end results were a 5-4 OT loss and 4-4 tie at Munn Arena in November and a 3-2 overtime loss in the Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit in December.
“At the start of overtime, you don’t want to think about what happened last year,” Appleton said. “But it’s a new season so you just go out there, work hard for five minutes and whatever happens, happens.
“We were confident going into that power play that we’d have a good chance to score.’’
Michigan Tech defenseman Matt Roy, who led his team with seven of its 18 blocked shots, was penalized for holding the stick at 1:13 of overtime.
Nine seconds after the faceoff in the right circle in the Huskies’ zone, the game was over.
Here’s how Appleton broke down the Spartans’ biggest goal of the season.
“Me and Taro like to play a little give-and-go catch up (near the blue line) and we were able bait one of their guys, and when I got the puck, I just tried to get it to the net because we had our screen, Villiam (Haag), in front and PK (Patrick Khodorenko) down low. I was able to get around the defenseman who was coming out to challenge me and it ended up finding the back of the net.
“I had a decent lane to the net and Villiam had a good screen, so I don’t even know if the goalie saw it.’’
The puck appeared to go over Redmond’s left shoulder.
“I didn’t see it (go in),’’ Appleton said. “I saw everyone skating at me, so that fired me up. This is really a good team win and something to build on.’’ Will the Spartans and Huskies make it seven overtime games in a row? That will be decided in the series finale at 7 p.m. Saturday at Munn Arena. “Last year, we went into overtime in all three games after letting them back in the game, but this year we played a good 60-plus minutes game,’’ senior right wing and captain Joe Cox said. “It was a fun game to play. It was physical, it was fast and the guys in the locker room felt good going out for the third period.’’
Michigan State got outshot 7-3 in the third period and survived some anxious moments with the Huskies buzzing around the Spartan net. But Appleton was on target in overtime to send the MSU fans home happy.
“He’s been playing great all year,’’ Cox said of Appleton. “It’s about time he got some bounces. He had a great shot for the OT winner. That’s what he was doing all week in practice.’’
OSBURN EXCELS: Sophomore defenseman Zach Osburn had arguably his best game as a Spartan with an outstanding all-around effort. He logged a lot of minutes, moved the puck and carried the puck very well, was a force in all three zones, on the ice for all three MSU goals and not on the ice for the two Tech goals.
Osburn, a 5-10, 191-pounder from Plymouth, is known as a skilled offensive-style defenseman with excellent instincts. He made a great read to go deep into the Tech zone in the first period, with Appleton carrying the puck along the right boards.
Appleton fed it out front, the puck deflected off goalie Angus Redmond, and Osburn was hovering at the edge of the crease. He chipped it in to give his team a 1-0 lead.
“I felt like I had a lot of jump and was pretty active. That’s the way I have to play every night, with that consistency,’’ Osburn said. “I think as a team, (so many) guys were making it easy for everyone to play.
“Boots (freshman defenseman Butrus Ghafari) had a very good night, making good, safe plays. He made it easier for me to play my role.’’
Osburn, who picked up an assist on Appleton’s first goal, leads MSU in shots on goal with 21 through six games. He had three on goal on Friday.
“Zach can really move the puck and carry the puck, and I think his defensive ability continues to improve,’’ MSU coach Tom Anastos said. “Not having watched the game back, my initial look is that he played a really strong game.
“He’s strong, he’s in good condition and he can log a lot of minutes and get up and down the ice in a hurry. He can be an exciting player, and he can make your heart go out in a hurry.
“When he scored the first goal, he darted to the net and that’s why we brought him here. He’s growing in confidence and he continues to pick his spots.’’
Osburn said when he saw Appleton with the puck and with some space along the right corner boards in the first period, he saw an opportunity.
“I was trying to find an open spot in the slot because I know how good of a puck mover Appleton is,’’ he said. “I started calling for the puck and he eventually he got a shot on net, and the rebound just popped out to me and I was there to put it in.
“Every time Appleton is on the ice, you know he’s going to make something happen, that he’s going to make a good play. He’s developing into a great two-way player.’’
Appleton was pretty impressed with Osburn’s play, too.
“I don’t how many minutes they (Osburn and Ghafari) played, but it seemed like they were out there all the time, chipping pucks, working hard against a very good team like Michigan Tech,’’ he said. “Ozzie was making great plays all over the ice.
“He scored that goal on a rebound. That’s not a play a lot of defensemen on the weak side realize that if they can step up, there can be a rebound they can put it home.
“He’s got a good offensive brain, good legs and instincts and he’s pretty smart defensively, too.’’
DEPTH ON DEFENSE: With red-shirt freshman defenseman Jerad Rosburg out with an upper body injury, suffered last Friday against Princeton, MSU’s defense had a bit of a new look on Friday, with two more freshmen in the lineup.
The Spartans dressed seven defensemen and only 11 forwards. Rookie defensemen Damian Chrcek and Anthony Scarsella played in MSU’s first two games at Lake Superior State last month, when junior Carson Gatt was out with an injury. They have been healthy scratches over previous three games but were in the lineup on Friday.
MSU’s seven-man defensive corps included four freshmen, one sophomore, one junior and one senior.
On Friday, Chrcek teamed with freshman Mitch Eliot, Gatt was paired with senior Rhett Holland, Osburn was back with Ghafari and Scarsella saw spot duty. Scarsella, a left-hand shot, also saw time on one of MSU’s power-play units, taking Rosburg’s usual spot.
“The two guys we put in on defense – Chrcek and Scarsella – did a good job of acclimating themselves to the pace of the game and battled hard,’’ Anastos said. “What I like about (Ghafari) so far is he’s showing poise with the puck. He doesn’t get rattled easy.
“He brings a physical element to his game. He stays within himself. It’s helped to have a ton of junior experience.
“I think we’re building some depth back there. We knew it would take time to get experience. A lot of guys played a lot of key minutes tonight.’’
Despite a lot of positives coming out of MSU’s second straight win, there are some areas that need to be cleaned up as the Spartans go forward and seek a series sweep on Saturday.
“We showed some poise and we competed but we have to get better at being able to move the puck out of the zone and with possession,’’ Anastos said. “We made some bad decisions coming through the neutral zone where we didn’t get pucks deep and make them go back for it.
“They were doing a good job when we weren’t coming out with pucks clean. They were pounding them back in and pounding them back in. They did that and kind of wore our defense down.
“We struggled a bit in the third period but we found a way to win and that’s a positive. This is just another building block against a good team. And to get good results, your confidence grows.’’
Goalie Ed Minney, making his fourth start of the season, turned in his third straight solid game, making 22 saves, including a game-saver in overtime, and earning praise from teammates and coaches.
“Ed was solid in goal. He made some big saves and handled the puck well,’’ Anastos said. “He helped us break the puck out in many instances. You can see his confidence growing. He’s a big presence in the net. He was steady, he had a calm demeanor and was such a positive factor in being able to handle the puck.’’
THE LAST TIME: Michigan State’s last victory over Michigan Tech was in the Great Lakes Invitational semifinals on Dec. 29, 2011. The Spartans won 3-1 on goals by Greg Wolfe, Chris Forfar and Brett Perlini (empty net). Tech outshot the Spartans 46-26 as goalie Drew Palmisano made 45 saves.
Before Friday, the Huskies were 4-0-2 against MSU in the last six meetings, starting with a 3-2 OT win in Houghton in 2013.
Michigan State’s last overtime win was last season against Michigan on Feb. 5 at Joe Louis Arena. Matt DeBlouw’s goal on a power play at 3:29 of OT gave MSU a 3-2 win over the Wolverines in front of a sellout crowd of 20,027.
So, when was the last time the Spartans celebrated an overtime win at Munn Arena?
IN THE BIG TEN: In the renewal of one of college hockey’s best and most intense rivalries, No. 13 Minnesota and No. 3 North Dakota met in the first game of two-game non-conference series at Mariucci Arena on Friday. The game more than lived up to expectations.
The Fighting Hawks (5-2-1) took a 2-0 lead early in the first period but the Gophers (3-2-2) tied it 2-2 before the period ended. After a scoreless second period, UND went up 3-2 early in the third period but Minnesota tied it 3-3.
The Fighting Hawks again took the lead at 4-3 at 11:17, but the Gophers again answered with the tying goal at 14:45.
With 1:59 left in the third period, North Dakota looked like it might have scored the winning goal, taking a 5-4 lead. But it didn’t last long. Minnesota rebounded and scored 42 seconds later, at 18:43, to pull even at 5-5.
The overtime was exciting but scoreless, and the former WCHA rivals had to settle for a 5-5 tie. The Gophers, who held a 37-22 edge in shots on goal, were 3-for-8 on the power play, while UND was 1-for-5.
The teams meet in the series finale at 9 p.m. Saturday in Minneapolis.
Meanwhile, No. 14 Penn State and No. 17 Michigan posted victories on Friday, but No. 11 Ohio State and Wisconsin suffered one-sided home defeats.
The Nittany Lions (6-1-1) completed a sweep of Niagara (0-7-2) with a 5-1 win at home. PSU won the series opener on Thursday, 5-1.
The Wolverines (4-3-1) halted a two-game losing streak and a three-game winless skein (0-2-1) with a 4-1 victory over Arizona State (1-8) in Glendale, Ariz. The teams played only one game this weekend.
The Buckeyes (5-1-2) lost for the first time this season as Robert Morris (3-3-1) stunned OSU, 6-2, in Columbus. The teams meet again Saturday in Pittsburgh.
The Badgers (4-3), playing Northern Michigan (3-5-1) for the third time this season, suffered a 5-2 defeat at the Kohl Center in Madison. In the first series of the season, Wisconsin and NMU split two games in Green Bay. The teams play again on Saturday.