Neil's Notebook: Spartans Look to Bounce Back on Saturday
Nov. 9, 2013
By Neil Koepke
HOUGHTON - And so it goes for a team looking for consistency in its offense.
Five days after playing its most complete game, Michigan State on Friday took a step backward with arguably its worst offensive game of the season with only 19 shots on goal.
Michigan Tech's energy and solid defensive play limited the Spartans to just a few quality scoring chances in a 3-0 nonconference victory in front of 3,145 fans at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
In last week's sweep of American International, MSU (2-3) had 47 and 40 shots on goal in 5-4 and 4-0 victories.
In MSU's first game at Michigan Tech since 1984, the Spartans were playing a much better opponent and their compete level was down.
"Our energy level wasn't there and, for whatever reason, the mental part was the worst part of our game,'' senior left wing Dean Chelios said. "The amount of turnovers in the middle, not thinking our systems and being out of sync was almost embarrassing.
"You can't expect to win when you play like that.''
Thus, MSU's three-game winning streak comes to an end. The Spartans will try to rebound and head home with a split in the series finale at 7 p.m. Saturday. Despite a poor first period, in which they fell behind 1-0, and an improved second 20 minutes, which didn't result in any goals, the Spartans were still in position to pull out a victory.
They started the third period with a power play for 1 minute and 27 seconds and had momentum from a strong last five minutes of the second period.
Instead of tying the game with a power-play goal, MSU failed to convert, and 21 seconds after Tech's penalty expired, the Huskies' Tanner Kero's wrist shot from the slot went through the legs of Spartan goalie Jake Hildebrand (27 saves).
With a 2-0 lead and the momentum, Michigan Tech (2-6-1) cruised to just its second victory of the season - both on home ice. Alex Petan's shot from the top of the right circle eluded a screened Hildebrand with 4:40 left to boost the Huskies' margin of victory to three goals.
David Johnstone, a junior left wing from Grand Ledge scored Tech's first goal, set up by a MSU turnover in the slot.
"We did pretty well in the second period and had a good feeling going into the third,'' Chelios and said. "But they got that quick goal, after our power play and we kind of just dropped dead.''
The Spartans' power play, which has not been productive all season (now 3-for-36), could have been a factor against the Huskies. MSU had one power play in the first period and two late in the second but managed only two shots on goal.
Coach Tom Anastos praised Michigan Tech's effort and energy but was puzzled by his own team's lack of those ingredients.
"They played with lots of energy, particularly in the first and third periods,'' Anastos said. "They dictated the tempo of the game and made it difficult for us to establish any type of forecheck.
"They did a good job of clogging up the neutral zone and we didn't respond to it very well.''
The Spartans' best chances came in the middle period. JT Stenglein had a good chance with a shot from the left circle that was blocked by Tech goalie Pheonix Copley.
"You have to give them credit. They played well and had lots of jump,'' Anastos said. "We got our legs going in the second period, but never really managed many dangerous scoring chances.
"In the third period, we start on a power play and don't get anything going and they scored. They take over the momentum and the game.
"We had way too many turnovers. We just didn't play hard enough long enough and I just didn't like our energy tonight.''
CAPTAIN'S TAKE: MSU senior captain Greg Wolfe was disappointed with his team's response to Michigan Tech's solid all-around game.
"Overall, we didn't have the jump we need to have. I can't put my finger on it (as to why it happened),'' Wolfe said. "We just didn't have it and it's something we have to figure out.
ENOUGH OF COPLEY: If any of the MSU fans who made the trip to Houghton were also at the Great Lakes Invitational last December and watched both of Michigan Tech's games, they're probably really tired of watching Huskie goalie Pheonix Copley. Copley, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound sophomore from North Pole, Alaska, had back-to-back shutouts in the 2012 GLI as Tech won the title for the first time since 1980. He blanked Michigan, 4-0, and Western Michigan, 4-0, and earned the GLI's most valuable player award.
Spartan fans up north for the on-campus rivalry renewal are likely to see Mr. Copley again in Saturday's rematch.
ANOTHER LAST TIME: Before Friday's well-earned victory, Michigan Tech's record against the Spartans in the last 15 meetings was 1-14.
The Huskies' last win over the Spartans was on Dec. 28, 2007, a 4-1 triumph in the GLI semifinals in Detroit. That win stopped MSU's 11-game winning streak against Tech, all coming in the GLI and over a 15-year period.
The Spartans had a three-game win streak going before running into the Huskies.
IN THE BIG TEN: In the biggest game of Friday night, No. 1 Minnesota was upended by No. 3/4 Notre Dame, 4-1, in South Bend. The teams meet again on Saturday. The loss was the Gophers' first defeat, after going 6-0-1 to start the season. The Irish are (7-2-0).
The Notre Dame-Minnesota non-conference series has more storylines than just two top three/four teams going up against each other.
Minnesota coach Don Lucia played at Notre Dame and his son, Mario, is an Irish sophomore forward. Mario Lucia was held in check without a point as his team beat dad's team.
Meanwhile, Ohio State and Penn State also posted victories, as the Big Ten went 2-2 in series openers.
The Buckeyes beat Niagara, 4-1, in Columbus, and the Nittany Lions held off Bentley, of Atlantic Hockey, 2-1, in State College. Michigan and Wisconsin are off this weekend.
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