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Neil's Notebook: Spartans Use OT to Knock Off Ferris State

Nov. 18, 2017

By Neil Koepke staff writer

EAST LANSING -- For Michigan State, it was one of games in which you're in control for 35 minutes, have a good lead and confident about an ensuing victory.

But then things change and suddenly on your heels and hanging on in the third period, trying to avoid a gut-wrenching defeat.

But in the end, the Spartans on Friday found a way to play over some mistakes, keep their composure and emerge with an exciting 3-2 overtime victory over Ferris State in non-conference game in front of 4,599 fans at Munn Arena.

After a 2-0 lead disappeared, as the Bulldogs scored in the last minute of the second period and with 4:24 left in the third, MSU won it on Taro Hirose's goal from deep in the left circle with 1:13 left in overtime.

The Spartans (6-5 overall, 1-3 Big Ten) celebrated twice -- once right after the puck appeared to go into the net and come out and then again when, after a video review, the referee signaled that the goal was good.

"It's not how we wanted things to go, but we'll take the win,'' Hirose said.

Coach Danton Cole said there are many lessons to be learned by his young team, and teaching points are easier coming off a victory.

"I keep saying that we've been through every situation this year, and we added a couple tonight,'' he said. "We'll keep learning.

"It was an interesting game with some serious ups and downs. We did a good job for the first 35 minutes, and the tide really turned. But give Ferris credit, they really started pushing it.''

The Bulldogs (5-7-1, 2-3-1 WCHA) got outshot 12-4 in the first period but MSU failed to capitalize until early in the second when red-hot Spartan right wing Mitchell Lewandowski scored a pair of goals -- at 3:17 and 9:15.



A minute after MSU's second goal, sophomore center Sam Saliba almost made it 3-0 with a quick wrister from the edge of the crease. But FSU goalie Darren Smith made a clutch glove save that may have saved the Bulldogs.

Ferris State came to life in the last five minutes of the middle period and applied good pressure in the MSU zone.

Finally, FSU leading scorer Mitch Maloney beat Spartan goalie John Lethemon from the left circle with a great shot to the top right corner with 26 seconds left in the period.

Scoring chances were limited for both teams in the first 10 minutes of the third period. But after the Spartans survived FSU's first power play, the Bulldogs tied it 2-2 at 15:36 on a shot from the left point by defenseman Ryker Killins that found its way past a screened Lethemon.

The Spartans survived a few great chances by the Bulldogs and skated off a late power play to take the game into overtime.

"So, lots of lessons for the young guys on how you have to keep playing and how you have to do things the right way. If you cheat the game, it bites you,'' Cole said. "And fortunately, we can learn some lessons through winning and try to be a little better on Saturday.'

Michigan State will try to earn its first road win and second sweep of the season when it faces the Bulldogs at 7 p.m. Saturday in Big Rapids.

While the KHL line of Patrick Khodorenko, who made an outstanding pass to set up the winner, Hirose (one goal, one assist) and Lewandowski (two goals, one assist) provided the offense, sophomore goalie Lethemon had another excellent outing with a 27-save performance.

"John was really good and we were lucky to get it to overtime, so give him a lot of credit for that,'' Cole said.

The KHL line's second shift in overtime, with excellent execution, made for a great ending for the Spartans.

"I made a little pass to Lewie in the slot and he took a good shot on net,'' Hirose said. "The puck went behind the net, Patty got to it and then made an unbelievable (backhand) pass (to me), and I just shot it on net.

"There was so much net that I thought it went in, but I looked at the referee and, at first, he looked like he didn't know if it went in. Then he pointed at the net so I thought it must have gone in. But they reviewed it so I wasn't sure.''

Referees Brian Aaron and Brett DesRosiers huddled in the penalty box, looking at a video screen and it didn't take long before they ruled it a goal.

"Taro (passed) it into the middle and I just shot it, but it hit the goalie's blocker and ended up behind the net,'' Lewandowski said. "Khodorenko got it and I heard Taro yell for it and Patty backhanded it right to Taro (in the left circle).

"I saw the net go up and I thought it was in. I was in front of the net and didn't see everything, so I wasn't sure.''

Despite the KHL line providing the offense for the Spartans, Cole rated their game as "just OK.''

Khodorenko, Hirose and Lewandowski were on the ice for both Ferris State goals, the first coming in the final minute of the middle period.

"The pressure on them is `let's go into the locker room up 2-0' and they're out there and they have to finish that period,'' Cole said. "The turnovers and the high-risk plays, they have to lead, and if they start doing that, everyone feels they can do it, too. We have to be better at that.''

Hirose said his team was disappointed by allowing the Bulldogs to tie it in the third period, but said everyone remained calm and battled through the tough stretches.

"We have good leadership from those three guys with the `A" (on their jerseys) and they keep the room calm,'' Hirose said of assistant captains Carson Gatt, Sam Saliba and Brennan Sanford. "And even on the bench, the guys were talking and we didn't get down on ourselves. I think that's another change from last year.''

Hirose said another takeaway from the victory was MSU's "ability to win these close games.''

Five of the Spartans' six victories have been decided in the third period, and four have been decided by a goal or with an empty-net goal.

"We had a 2-0 lead and that would have been great to keep it, but with the way we won it, we can learn from it and take it into tomorrow's game. We were trying to keep them to the outside and we were clean with our breakouts for most of the game, but we have to clean things up.''

Cole said his team came out OK in the third period, not allowing any quality chances in the first 10 minutes, but then slipped back into some bad habits that started late in the second period.

"They started generating chances and our gaps got bad. Defensively, we were at the top of the circles and at the far blue line and they were flying through there,'' he said. "That's a tough way to try to defend.

"Give Ferris credit, they stretched some things and got in behind us.''

Cole said he's looking forward to the challenge of playing the Bulldogs at Ewigleben Arena on Saturday. Just like he enjoyed getting his team to rebound last Saturday, after losing to Wisconsin in their series opener, 6-3, on Friday.

"Oh, I love it. You win and now the challenge is that you know that (Ferris State) is going to play better in their barn,'' he said. "You lose, like last Friday, and it's let's come back and be better.

"That's why you like doing this. I never wanted to have a real job. I get to do this. I got to play and there's wins and losses, and (after every game) you go back and figure out what you did right and wrong and try to correct it. It's a blast.''

LETHEMON SHARP, STEADY: Sophomore goaltender John Lethemon made as many saves in the third period (13) as he did in the first two periods combined.

He didn't see a lot of quality shots until late in the second period and in the second half of the third period. With 10 minutes left in the third, the Bulldogs controlled the puck and applied pressure in the MSU zone.

After FSU tied it at 15:36, Lethemon stopped several shots from close in and pounced on loose pucks to keep the visitors from taking the lead.

"You have to stay focused and try to keep yourself into the game as much as possible,'' he said. "In the first period, I think they had one good chance. I didn't' get a shot for a long time and didn't get many in the second period until the end of it.''

Lethemon said he didn't see Ryker Killins' shot from the point that tied it, 2-2.

"I knew he was shooting but I didn't pick it up until the last second,'' he said. "That was tough one. They did a good job. It was a good shot and they did a good job taking my eyes away (with traffic in front).''

When Ferris State scored its first goal at 19:34 of the second period, it ended Lethemon's shutout streak at 112 minutes, starting with last Friday's 6-3 loss to Wisconsin.

He replaced senior goalie Ed Minney at 15:18 of the first period and gave up three goals -- the last at 7:34 of the third period. So, the streak started with 12 minutes and 26 seconds.

Lethemon then went 60 minutes without giving up a goal in shutting out the Badgers, 2-0, on Saturday. In Friday's game against FSU, Lethemon added 39 minutes and 34 seconds to his streak.

"Hockey is a funny game so you have to control your highs and lows,'' Lethemon said. "There's going to be a lot of back and forth. They got their opportunities and capitalized. So, you have to bounce back.''

The Spartans fought through the late adversity and got rewarded.

"In overtime, it was all ours. We didn't give them anything and we had good opportunities,'' Lethemon said.

LEWANDOWSKI STILL HOT: Mitchell Lewandowski continues to carry a hot stick as he scored two goals within a span of 5 minutes and 58 seconds in the second period and assisted on linemate Taro Hirose's game winner in overtime.

The freshman right wing has five goals and two assists for seven points in his last three games. He had two goals and one assist in last Friday's 6-3 loss to Wisconsin and one goal last Saturday in the 2-0 victory.

"I try not to think about it because it's all good things, but sometimes I think `what is going on?''' Lewandowski said with a laugh after Saturday's victory.

Lewandowski is the Spartans' top scorer with eight goals and eight assists for 16 points in 11 games. He's in an eight-way tie for 9th place in the national scoring race -- five points behind Notre Dame senior forward Jake Evans (5-16-21), who's played in 13 games.

In addition, Lewandowski is the highest-scoring freshman in the nation in points (16) and average points-per-game (1.45).

On his first goal Friday, Lewandowski beat FSU goalie Darren Smith from the inside edge of the left circle at 3:17 of the second period. He basically skated through and around two FSU defenders, lost the puck, retrieved it and let go with a shot.

"I jumped off the bench and Gatter (defenseman Carson Gatt) hit me on the backhand (in the middle in the neutral zone) and when I got into the (offensive) zone, I tried to pull (the puck) back and shoot it, but I lost it to the outside. Then I got it and just tried to shoot it glove side,'' he said. "I wasn't really aiming. I just shot it.''

The puck sailed over Smith's catching glove and hit the right corner of the net.

Lewandowski's second goal -- at 9:15 of the middle period -- was set up by an alert play by Hirose. With the Bulldogs exiting their zone, Hirose intercepted a pass just outside the blue line and drove into the zone on a 2-on-1 rush with Lewandowski on his left.

"You have to get open for Taro and he can make those plays,'' Lewandowski said.

Hirose led his linemate with a perfect pass into slot, where Lewandowski reached out and lifted the puck into the left corner.

"When I got the puck, I knew I had to go up and try to take my time and one-time it,'' Lewandowski said of his eighth goal of the season.

Said Coach Danton Cole: "He has a hot stick right now, whether it's passing or shooting.

"But I think that line was just average. I told them that and that they need to be better. But I wish I could have bad nights and still have two or three points.''

HAIL TO THE CHAMPS: Michigan State's 2006-07 NCAA championship team was saluted between the second and third periods on Friday. There was a reception for the team after the game, and it'll be honored at Saturday's Michigan State-Maryland football game at Spartan Stadium.

Players on hand Friday included captain Chris Lawrence, Jeff Dunne, Brandon Gentile, Ethan Graham, Justin Johnston, Kurt Kivisto, Zak McClelland, Jim McKenzie, Matt Schepke, Chris Snavely, Nick Sucharski and Brandon Warner. In addition, the parents of defenseman Daniel Vukovic represented their son, who's playing hockey in Switzerland.

Several players could not attend because they're playing pro hockey in North America and Europe.

The Spartans, coached by Rick Comley and assistants Tom Newton and Brian Renfrew, finished 2007 with records of 26-13-3 overall and 15-10-3 (fourth place) in the CCHA.

MSU's NCAA Tournament run started with a 5-1 victory over Boston University in a regional semifinal in Grand Rapids. The Spartans then earned a berth in the Frozen Four with a 2-1 win over Notre Dame in the regional final.

In St. Louis, Michigan State overcame an early 2-0 deficit to defeat Maine, 4-2, in the NCAA semifinals, and then shocked the college hockey world with a 3-1 victory over Boston College to claim the 2007 national championship.

Trailing 1-0 entering the third period, the Spartans tied it on Tim Kennedy's goal and 9:53, and then took the lead when Kennedy set up Justin Abdelkader with the go-ahead goal with 18.9 seconds left. Chris Mueller added an empty-net goal with 1.7 seconds left as MSU claimed its third NCAA hockey championship. Goalie Jeff Lerg made 29 saves for the Spartans.

SPARTAN POTPOURRI: MSU's overtime win was its first since defeating Michigan Tech 3-2 at Munn Area last season, on Nov. 4, 2016. Mason Appleton scored the winner on a power play at 1:22 of OT, with assists going to Taro Hirose and Patrick Khodorenko. The Spartans went 1-2-4 in overtime in 2016-17. . . At 6-5, MSU has a winning record after the first 11 games for the first time since 2009-10, when the Spartans started 8-2-1.

IN THE BIG TEN: In the only conference series of the weekend, No. 9 Wisconsin rolled past No. 17 Michigan, 7-3, in Madison.

In non-conference play, the Big Ten was perfect with MSU, Notre Dame, Minnesota and Penn State winning series openers.

The No. 4 Irish topped Rensselaer, 4-1, in Troy, N.Y. No. 7 Minnesota built a 4-0 lead after two periods and held on for a 4-2 win over No. 13 Harvard in Minneapolis. Penn State defeated Arizona State, 7-0 in Glendale, Ariz. The Nittany Lions led only 2-0 after two periods but scored five goals in the third period.

No. 16 Ohio State has the weekend off.

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