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Neil’s Notebook: Spartans Resilient in Come-From-Behind Road Win

Nov. 13, 2016

By Neil Koepke staff writer

BIG RAPIDS – For the second game in three nights, Michigan State found itself with the challenge of digging out from a 3-1 deficit.

On Thursday, the Spartans trailed Ferris State 3-0 early in the second period and 3-1 midway through that period. But as hard as it worked, MSU couldn’t get the one big goal to get back into the game, and ended up with a 4-1 defeat at Munn Arena.

On Saturday at Ewigleben Arena, Spartans saw an early 1-0 lead disappear in hurry, as the Bulldogs struck for three goals within 1 minute and 58 seconds just six minutes into the first period.

This time, Michigan State showed its resiliency and found a finishing touch.

The Spartans took over the game in the second period, rallying for an early power-play goal and struck for two goals in a span of 1 minute and 21 seconds midway through the final period to pull out a 4-3 non-conference victory in front of a sellout crowd of 2,490.

It was MSU’s first road win of the season and, without question, its most important victory of the season.

“That was a great comeback win. I liked our start but I didn’t like the next part of the start,’’ MSU coach Tom Anastos said. “But I liked the way we responded, the way the guys fought through adversity early in the game, and the third period was our strongest.

“Our mission tonight was to get our first road win of the year. This is hard place to win. And to do it in comeback fashion, it’s rewarding. Our guys deserved it.’’

Finally, the Spartans (3-6) got rewarded for their work ethic and aggressiveness. The puck went in four times Saturday and it could have been more since MSU shooters hit five or six posts or crossbars and missed two breakaways and a couple of open nets.

In the third period, senior right wing and captain Joe Cox tied the game at 9:02 after linemate Thomas Ebbing won a faceoff over to Cox, who glided out to the top of the left circle and fired the puck past FSU goalie Darren Smith.



The Spartans’ Mason Appleton scored his second goal of the game off a 2-on-1 rush with linemate Patrick Khodorenko at 10:23 with a perfect wrister to the top right corner to give his team a 4-3 lead.

Equally impressive was the way the Spartans protected their lead in the final nine minutes and survived a hectic last 30 seconds. They bottled up the Bulldogs in the neutral zone, worked to possess the puck, and when they lost it, they showed great energy in battling to get it back and preventing FSU from mounting a sustained attack.

MSU held Ferris State to six shots in the second period and four in the third, as goalie Ed Minney finished with 20 saves. The Spartans, who had only three shots on goal in the first period, finished with 25 shots on Smith, including 12 in the third period.

“We were really hard to play against in the third period, which is something we’re trying to define in our game and in our identity and we did a good job with that,’’ Anastos said. “We defended well and put a lot of backpressure on when the puck was coming toward our zone.

“Our defense did a good job in transitioning the puck back to the offensive side. I thought our forwards did a heck of a job making good decisions and in possessing the puck.’’

The Spartans also helped themselves by being disciplined in the third period and not taking a penalty in the last nine minutes. MSU had to kill five power plays in the first period, although FSU’s first goal – at 4:04 – came five seconds after a Spartan penalty expired.

MSU was 1-for-7 on the power play, while FSU was 0-for-6.

Michigan State got goals from three different lines as Appleton had two, Cox one and freshman Sam Saliba opened the scoring 1:27 into the game with his first collegiate goal, which had to be reviewed by the referees before it ruled a good goal.

“It was a coming out party for a few guys,’’ Anastos said. “Sam Saliba’s line had a good night. He’s getting better and better every week. He’s a good player, a smart player and his line (with junior left wing Villiam Haag and freshman right wing Logan Lambdin) is really coming together.

“Villiam Haag was a horse out there tonight. Logan Lambdin, maybe had his best game of the season. It’s nice to see those games emerge.’’

Haag had two assists Saturday. The only major flaw in MSU’s game was the brief stretch in the first period in which Ferris State won puck battles behind the net, found open players in front and scored on one-timers at 4:04, 5:42 and 6:01 – by Andrew Mayer, Gerald Mayhew and Jared VanWormer, respectively.

“We turned the puck over and didn’t cover well. We didn’t give our goaltender much of an opportunity,’’ Anastos said. “But we tightened up and got a whole lot better.’’

A key turning point in the game was MSU’s penalty killing. Trailing 3-1, the Spartans skated off four more first-period penalties to Cox at 6:05, Lambdin at 10:41, Khodorenko at 13:08 and Taro Hirose at 16:12.

“Our penalty killing rebounded tonight. They had a good night,’’ Anastos said.

Cox said the difference between Thursday’s frustrating loss and Saturday’s uplifting victory was simply execution.

“On Thursday, you saw us have a lot of chances, but we didn’t execute. But we got chances tonight and executed, even though we started off a little shaky by letting three goals in,’’ Cox said.

“But the biggest thing I’m most proud of is the way the guys handled the start and fought back. We battled hard the last 55 minutes or so to win the game. We played better in the second period and (Appleton) put that one in and we kept gaining more confidence. I was able to get the third one, and we had the momentum with a tie.

“It was a full team effort. Everyone was jumping – from the first line to the fourth line to the defensive pairs. There was a lot of positive talk on the bench.’’

DANGEROUS AND PRODUCTIVE: Mason Appleton’s line with Patrick Khodorenko at center and Taro Hirose on left wing is developing into one of the most formidable units in college hockey. Every time they step on the ice, they’re capable to creating a good scoring opportunity, and they’re getting better and better.

And when MSU is on the power play, Hirose moves back to the left point with high-scoring defenseman Zach Osburn at the right point and Villiam Haag hovering around the net, while the highly skilled and creative Appleton and Khodorenko move the puck around and try to find open space.

Appleton made excellent plays to score his two goals, including the game winner at 10:23 of the third period for his fifth goal of the season.

Appleton got the puck from Haag in the neutral zone and found himself on a 2-on-1 break with Khodorenko on his left.

He drove in on the right, considered a pass to Khodorenko and then, spotting an opening on the right side of the net, he fired the puck past Smith to put MSU up 4-3 and stunned the Bulldogs.

“Coming down 2-on-1, the defenseman played it really well. He took away the pass option to PK (Khodorenko), but I was still able to pick the corner,’’ Appleton said. “He gave me room, but as I was coming down, I kind of showed that I was shooting to the far side, but at the last second, I kind of turned my hands over back to the short side.

“I guess the goalie thought I was putting it far side and for PK to come in for a rebound. It’s a huge win for us on the road. Down 3-1, they could have put the game away on one of their power plays but we didn’t let it deflate us.’’

On his first goal on a power play at 4:18 of the second period, Appleton got the puck just inside the blue line the middle of the ice in the FSU zone. He faked a shot, went around a defender and used Haag as a screen to fire the puck past Smith and give his team new life.

“Ferris does a good job of blocking shots. They don’t care about tying up our guys in front. They’re more like goalies. Taro made a good play to pull that one guy over to give me the middle, and I had a lot of time.

“We talk about fake shots on a power play to get players to sell out to block the shot. I did a fake (shot) and went around him, Vill had a good screen and the goalie didn’t see that I had faked the shot. Vill was in perfect position in front and it opened the whole side of the net for me.’’

Appleton leads MSU in scoring with five goals and six assists for 11 points, while Hirose, with two goals and five assists, is tied with Haag (3-4) for second with seven points. Khodorenko has one goal and three assists for four points.

Appleton has at least a point in seven of MSU’s nine games

“He’s really playing well, and that line was outstanding tonight. They were a force, they were dynamic,’’ MSU coach Tom Anastos said. “I thought Patty Khodorenko was a man. He’s strong defensively, he’s strong on pucks, he’s creative and he makes plays. The three of them are really coming together.

“Appleton is getting the puck off his stick in a hurry. He did that on both goals.’’

Said Appleton: “The biggest part for us was holding on to the win. That was a hectic last 20 seconds. We worked hard to chip puck out and get them deep. We thought that on Thursday we played one of our better games, but there were a couple of things we needed to clean up and we did that tonight.’’

MILESTONE FOR SALIBA: Freshman center Sam Saliba got his first career point with an assist against Michigan Tech a week ago Saturday, and against the Bulldogs, he scored his first goal.

Saliba was on the edge of the crease when fellow freshman Logan Lambdin put the puck on net and Saliba backhanded the rebound over the goal line less than two minutes into the game. But the officials had to review the goal to see if the puck went in, and in seeing the video, they ruled it did, and Saliba’s first goal was official.

“It was nice to get the first one. It was a good play by Lambdin to get the puck to the net,’’ Saliba. “It was a weird play. The rebound came to my backhand and I took a shot and then a rebound came right back to me.

“My first thought was that the goalie made the save so I tried shoot it again, but I guess the initial shot actually went in.’’

In the last 30 seconds of the game, Coach Tom Anastos had two freshman centers on the ice – Saliba and Khodorenko – to take faceoffs. Saliba took the final draw of the night with 18 seconds left in the circle to the right of goalie Ed Minney.

“He’s been really good on draws, especially from that spot,” Anastos said. “We wanted to have two draws guys to take faceoffs on either side. They did what they had to do to win the game.’’

Saliba was appreciative of the responsibility given him by his coach.

“It means a lot that he has confidence in me and trusts me in the defensive zone,’’ said Saliba, a 5-foot-11, 180-pounder from Lincolnshire, Ill. “It got really hectic down there but we found a way.

“This was a roller-coaster game, probably the most roller-coaster game we’ve had all year. There were a lot of ups and downs, but it’s a real gutsy road win.’’

UP NEXT: The Spartans have an off week coming up and won’t play again until Thanksgiving weekend when they travel to Grand Forks, N.D., to face No. 6 North Dakota. MSU and UND meet at 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 25 and at 8 p.m. on Nov. 26.

The Fighting Hawks (5-4-2 overall, 0-3-1-1 NCHC) are in a bit of a skid. They’re winless in the last six games at 0-4-2. This weekend, they tied No. 2 Denver 1-1 on Friday and lost 3-2 on Saturday in a league series at home. UND plays a NCHC series at St. Cloud State next weekend.

IN THE BIG TEN: No. 18 Michigan’s bid for a sweep of No. 4 Boston University came up short Saturday as the Terriers (5-3-1) rebounded for a 4-2 victory in Ann Arbor and a split of the non-conference series. In Friday’s opener, the Wolverines (5-4-1) upended BU, 4-0.

No. 13 Penn State (9-1-1) made it two straight over Alaska Anchorage (1-9) with a 3-1 victory in State College, Pa. The Nittany Lions, playing their sixth consecutive home game, with four more upcoming, won on Friday, 6-3.

No. 14 Ohio State and Connecticut (3-3-5) played to a 3-3 tie on Saturday in Columbus. The Buckeyes (6-1-4) won the series opener, 7-4, on Friday.

Wisconsin and Minnesota had the weekend off.

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