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Neil’s Notebook: Slow Start Hurts Spartans in Loss

Nov. 11, 2017

By Neil Koepke staff writer

EAST LANSING – Michigan State coach Danton Cole said before the season there would be some tough times, some growing pains to get through as the Spartans’ program navigated the rebuilding process.

Friday night was one of those times.

The Spartans fell behind 3-0 in the first period, battled back to trim the deficit to 3-2, but Wisconsin scored the next three goals and cruised to a 6-3 victory in front of a crowd of 4,987 at Munn Arena.

There were only few bright spots for the Spartans (4-5, 0-3 Big Ten), who suffered their first home loss of the season after four consecutive wins:

>> MSU dominated the second period, scoring two goals in the first seven minutes and had great momentum until the Badgers got a late goal to boost their lead to 4-2.

>> The Spartans’ power play was a threat, developing excellent chances, scoring two goals and it could have added another goal or two. MSU was 2-for-6 on the power play.

>> Freshman right wing Mitchell Lewandowski scored two goals – one off a great play and shot on a rush and the other an excellent one-timer on a power play in the third period. Lewandowski had a three-point night, assisting on Cody Milan’s power-play goal in the second period. But the positives couldn’t overcome the negatives – a poor start, a few costly turnovers and coverage issues, a tough opening period for senior goalie Ed Minney (3 goals allowed in 15 minutes of play) and bad start to the third period, in which Wisconsin’s lead went from 4-2 to 5-2 just 43 seconds into the period.



“They were jumping early and we weren’t and that’s a good way to find yourself down 3-0,’’ Cole said. “You have to give credit to the other team. We battled a little bit through the second period and played with more speed and jam and got some things done.

“That early goal in the third period really hurt, but I give the guys credit. They kept battling. It’s hard when you’re down 3-0 or 5-2 in those situations.’’

The challenge for Michigan State is to learn from Friday’s and respond with a more consistent, efficient game in Saturday’s rematch. The Spartans and Badgers (7-4-1, 2-1) meet in the series finale at 7 p.m. at Munn Arena.

“We have to learn from this quick and put it behind us,’’ MSU sophomore center Sam Saliba said. “You have to learn and forget about it because we have a game tomorrow and it’s crucial for us to find a way to get a split.

“We can’t get too down about it. They’re a good team over there. But we have good players, too, and we have to know that we can come back and find a way to get a win.’’

The Spartans found themselves in a big hole in the first period after Matthew Freytag scored on a one-timer from the right circle at 1:59, Will Johnson scored on a power-play, beating Minney low to the right corner at 12:59, and Ryan Wagner drove down the left wing, went in deep and beat Minney with a perfect shot to the top left corner at 15:18.

That was the end of Minney’s night as sophomore Will Lethemon took over and made 11 saves and gave up three goals in 44 minutes of work.

“I felt like we were watching instead of attacking and dictating the game, so we have to come out faster tomorrow,’’ Saliba said. “We started slow, got behind and I liked our response in the second period.

“But overall, 5-on-5, we didn’t generate very much throughout the course of the game.’’

The Spartans outshot the Badgers in the second period, 11-6, and held a 24-15 edge in attempts. And after Milan scored on a power play at 1:04 and Lewandowski scored on a great individual effort at 6:23, MSU looked like it could take over the game.

But Tarek Baker’s rebound goal at 13:58 stopped the Spartans’ surge, boosting the Badgers lead to 4-2.

MSU hopes for another strong period were spoiled in the first minute of the final period. A Spartan giveaway along the goal line turned into Cameron Hughes’ goal from the right circle, giving Wisconsin a 5-2 edge.

Badgers freshman defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk scored his first career goal on a power play at 7:34 with a slap shot from the middle of the ice just inside the blue line for a 6-2 lead.

Seven minutes later, Lewandowski’s one-timer from high in the right circle beat UW goalie Kyle Hayton (14 saves) to close the scoring at 14:42.

Wisconsin outshot MSU, 8-2, in the third period and 26-17 overall.

“I don’t know if we were mentally ready to play, and physically (ready),’’ MSU senior defenseman Carson Gatt said. “That’s a tough team to spot a three-goal lead to. “We pushed back in the second period. We were getting pucks deep on their defense and worked to get (quality) scoring chances. Rebounds were there, and we got it back to 3-2 and had things going our way.

“They got the fluky one late in the second period, and we didn’t come out as hard as we should have in the third. We’re just going to have to bounce back tomorrow. That’ll be a good challenge for us.’’

Cole liked his team’s play in the second period and the way the power play worked the puck around and created scoring chances. But he thought the Spartans’ 5-on-5 play should have been better.

“In the second period, in terms of breaking out, we were faster to the puck, our puck support was faster and our forwards came back faster. That’s why things worked,’’ he said. “You have to play in units of five. It can’t be 2, 3, 4 guys, especially us.

“We have to darn near – I don’t want to say perfect but we have to be really good and get some breaks to win hockey games. That’s the bad news. We did get some breaks tonight. We got a couple of power-play goals, but we didn’t defend well enough and didn’t work hard enough.

“On the power play, we moved the puck quick, moved it ahead of the pressure and we worked hard to get it back. Well, you can do those things playing 5-on-5, as well. Now, you don’t get to set up like that very often, but if you do that for 200 feet of ice and bring that work ethic, then things will work.’’

The second period was one of MSU’s best of the season – until the late goal by the Badgers.

“We were working in units and willing to win a shift and not think that if we didn’t score a goal, we didn’t win the shift,’’ Cole said. “That’s a mentality we have to take into tomorrow’s game.

“It’s just keep winning each shift, don’t get scored on, block a shot, backcheck well, forecheck and get a puck on net. You do enough of those things, all of a sudden it adds up and you’ll have a decent hockey game. I think we will tomorrow.’’

LEWANDOWSKI THRIVES: Freshman right wing Mitchell Lewandowski has played in nine games and already has three multi-point nights, including two games in which he’s scored two goals.

Lewandowski had a hand in all three Spartans’ goals Friday, assisting on the first one on a power play by Cod Milan and scoring the second and third goals, the last on a power play. He had a four-point game with a goal and three assists in MSU’s 6-4 win over Western Michigan on Oct. 20, he scored twice vs. Lake Superior in a 6-0 victory on Oct. 28 and has at least a point in six of MSU’s nine games.

Lewandowski, who plays right wing on MSU’s top line with center Patrick Khodorenko and left wing Taro Hirose, has taken over the outright MSU scoring lead with five goals and seven assists for 12 points.

Lewandowski, 19, a 5-foot-9, 176-pounder from Clarkston, is the top rookie scorer in the Big Ten and he shares the national scoring lead for freshman with Northeastern forward Zach Solow, who has three goals and nine assists for 12 points.

EARLY DEPARTURE: For the second time this season, goalie Ed Minney gave up three goals in the first period and was replaced by sophomore John Lethemon. After Wisconsin scored its opening goal just 1:59 into the game, on a cross-ice pass and perfect one-timer by Matthew Freytag, which Minney had little chance on, the Spartan senior was beaten on a low shot to the far right corner by Will Johnson at 12:59, and then by Ryan Wagner, with a quick shot to the top left corner, just over Minney’s right shoulder at 15:18. Minney departed after making nine saves, and Lethemon came on to play the rest of the game, making 11 saves and allowing three goals.

Minney’s season-opening game start against Bowling Green on Oct. 13 ended in similar fashion. He gave up three goals within 1 minute and 41 seconds in the first period and was replaced by Lethemon, as MSU lost, 4-1.

What does Minney have to do to improve his game?

“Stop pucks,’’ Spartans coach Danton Cole said. “Ed is a great young man, he works really hard and is a great teammate. In terms of that, he’s doing everything we ask of him.

“The unfortunate thing is you get confidence . . . competency breeds confidence. He needs to get in and stop some pucks and feel better. We were hoping that after last weekend in getting (into the game) in the third period at Minnesota and playing well, that he would get something going out of that.

“It’s not all his fault. We got down 3-0. We hold the defense and forwards accountable and we have to do the same with the goalies.’’

BADGERS’ VIEW: Wisconsin assistant coach Mark Osiecki said it’s natural for a team that dominates early, and takes a three-goal lead, not be as focused coming out for the second period.

“I think you get up by three and it’s natural for guys to think ‘well maybe there’s an opportunity for me to score a goal or find a way to get a couple of points,’” Osiecki said in his post-game comments with “Now on the flip side, we get penalties, they score and we get power plays and we’re a little cute on the power play and they generate momentum from their power plays and kills.’’

But mostly, Osiecki was pleased with the poise the Badgers showed in holding off the Spartans and pulling away in the third period for the 6-3 victory. “We moved our feet extremely well. When we didn’t have the puck, we were able to get it back,’’ he said. “The second period got away from them a little.

“We wanted to hit the reset button (going into the third period) and the guys did. I give a lot of credit to (senior captain and left wing) Cameron Hughes. I thought he did a tremendous job as a leader. He led by example.’’

Osiecki is filling in for head coach Tony Granato, who is in Germany this week with a U.S. team competing in the Deutschland Cup, an international tournament. Granato, the 2018 U.S. Olympic hockey coach, is coaching a team made up mainly of Americans playing in Europe, some whom could make up the final Olympic team.

On Friday, the Badgers got goals from six different players and two-point games from Tarek Baker (1 goal, 1 assist), Ryan Wagner (1-1), Sean Dhooghe (0-2) and Hughes (1-1). Six goals are a season high for Wisconsin.

“We’ve been talking as a staff that our offense is going to come, and it’s just a matter of finding some chemistry, understanding how we want to play as a group,’’ Osiecki said. “We felt from day one against Michigan Tech (on Oct. 1) that our offense is going to come at some point.’’

IN THE BIG TEN: No. 4 Minnesota scored the first three goals of the game in the second period, but Michigan rallied to tie it at 3-3 and 4-4 early in the third period and won it 5-4 at 3:24 of overtime on freshman Alex Roos’ power-play goal on Friday in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines (6-3, 2-1) and Gophers (7-4, 3-2) meet again Saturday night in the series finale.

No. 6 Notre Dame (7-3-1, 3-0) rallied from a 2-1 deficit after the first period and broke a 3-3 tie on Dawson Cook’s goal at 11:41 of the third period. The Irish added an empty-netter to earn a 5-3 victory over No. 19 Penn State (4-5, 2-3) in South Bend. The Irish have won three straight conference games. The teams meet again on Saturday.

In a non-conference series, No. 17 Ohio State (6-3-2, 1-3) led all the way in a 5-4 victory at Connecticut. The Buckeyes, who got two goals from Matthew Weiss in the first seven minutes, built a 3-0 lead in the second period before the Huskies (3-8-1, 2-4-1 Hockey East) scored twice to make it 3-2.

Each team scored two goals in the third period. Connecticut outshot the Buckeyes, 39-21. OSU freshman goalie Tommy Napier made 35 saves in his first career start. The Buckeyes and Huskies wrap up the series with a Saturday afternoon game.

NO. 1 VS. NO. 3 SHOWDOWN: In the first game of a two-game series matching No. 1 St. Cloud State and No. 3 Denver, the third-ranked Pioneers skated to a 4-2 National Collegiate Hockey Conference victory in Denver.

Down 3-1 late in the third period, the Huskies (7-1, 2-1), scored with 62 seconds left to cut the deficit to one goal. But sophomore standout Henrik Borgstrom scored into an empty net with 32 seconds left for the Pioneers (5-2-2, 1-2). Borgstrom, who scored DU’s first goal and had an assist, has a nation-leading 11 goals in eight games.

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