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Neil's Notebook: Spartans Deliver Huge Road Victory at No. 5 North Dakota

Nov. 26, 2016

By Neil Koepke staff writer

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Fifty minutes into the hockey game, Michigan State was on track for a well-deserved, methodical victory over No. 5 North Dakota.

But MSU's 4-1 lead suddenly disappeared as the Fighting Hawks woke up the Ralph Engelstad Arena crowd by scoring two goals in a span of 31 seconds.

Now the Spartans were in survival mode with 10 minutes left.

And they survived. But not without a lot of hold-your-breath moments.

The MSU defense and a few forwards blocked several shots in the hectic final four minutes, and goalie Ed Minney made a few clutch saves to give the Spartans a 4-3 victory on Friday night in front of a crowd of 11,265.

It was arguably Michigan State's biggest road victory in Tom Anastos' five-plus seasons as coach.

Of course, Anastos wasn't concerned about the past. He was just thrilled with his team's overall play and its reaction to adversity and a chaotic atmosphere in the last 10 minutes.

"We played really smart, guys made strong plays,'' he said "After we took the timeout (after UND's third goal), we got refocused and made some good decisions. There were some scramble shifts but our guys did what they had to do and we got a big road win for a young team like ours.''

MSU (4-6), which has won two straight, got goals from unlikely sources. Red-shirt freshman defenseman Jerad Rosburg scored two goals, both on slap shots in the first period, and set up by freshman center Sam Saliba, giving the Spartans a 2-1 lead. Rosburg went into the game with one goal and no assists. His second goal Friday came on a power play.



In the middle period, senior center Connor Wood boosted MSU's lead to 3-1 with a slap shot from the top of the right circle that beat UND junior goalie Cam Johnson. The goal was Wood's second of his career and his first point this season.

MSU's fourth goal came on a power play at 2:35 of the third period, when senior captain Joe Cox took a pass from Rosburg and fired from the point, and, with Thomas Ebbing screening Johnson, the puck found its way into the net. It was Cox's third goal of the season.

As the mid-point of the third period approached, the Spartans were playing well and in control, while the Fighting Hawks were in a bit of a slumber. The arena was quiet and the fans were probably thinking about Saturday's 8 p.m. series finale.

But the game changed quickly after MSU right wing Mason Appleton was assessed a five-minute major penalty for contact to the head at 7:49. The Spartans killed the first 1 minute and 12 seconds of the UND power play when Hayden Shaw of the Fighting Hawks took a penalty tripping.

Fifteen seconds into the 4-on-4 scenario, UND freshman standout Tyson Jost scored from in front of the net at 9:16, and 31 seconds later, he cut the MSU lead to 4-3 when he converted on a rebound and the noise level in the building was loud, very loud

That's when Anastos called the timeout.

The Fighting Hawks went back on the power play at 11:09 for 1 minute and 48 seconds but the Spartans killed it, and were getting a little worn down with seven minutes remaining.

"I loved the way we were playing until that major penalty. It changed everything. It gave them life,'' Anastos said.

MSU survived a stretch in which UND kept the puck in offensive zone for over a minute and attempted 10 shots, five of which were blocked by the Spartans. One shot hit defenseman Connor Gatt, who fell to the ice and made a valiant effort to get off the ice.

"Everyone was kind of helping each other through those last five minutes,'' Cox said. "Gatt, (Logan) Lambdin and Vill (Villiam Haag) all made huge blocks during that stretch.

"Minney had an incredible game. He's probably the reason we won. He made the saves he needed to make and the big saves that we needed to win the game. I'm excited because that's great team. They're highly skilled, competitive, big and strong.''

The last time the Spartans defeated a ranked team on the road was on March 14, 2015, when they upset No. 19 Michigan 2-1 at Yost Arena. MSU upset No. 3 Miami 3-0 in a CCHA playoff game in Oxford, Ohio, on March 15, 2013. In Anastos' first season, the Spartans swept No. 5/6 Western Michigan, 3-2, 4-2, in Kalamazoo on Nov. 11-12, 2011.

"It's a great win. It shows just what kind of character we have on this team,'' Cox said. "You saw it two weeks ago at Ferris State, where we kind bunkered in and we able to get the (4-3) win.

"We had a five-minute spell tonight where it wasn't going our way, and we have to figure out a way to get rid of those. But overall, we played a simple game and capitalized on our opportunities.''

MSU didn't get off to a good start on Friday as it fell behind 1-0 on Shane Gersich's rebound goal at 6:57, setting off some actual fireworks high above Minney near the rafters. In fact, there were fireworks on all three UND goals.

"When that first goal went in and (the fireworks went off), I was wondering what in the world was going on,'' Minney said. "I've never seen that in any games I've played in.''

Despite Rosburg's two goals, the Spartans were outshot 12-3 in the first period, but they carried the play in the second period with a 14-6 edge in shots and scored the only goal.

"We were a little sluggish in the first period, coming off our break (last weekend), but coming into the dressing room up 2-1, I thought we're going to get better,'' Anastos said. "I liked our second period and the start of the third, but that penalty was kind of game changer.

"We had to figure out a way to get it done and we did.''

MINNEY STANDS TALL: Ed Minney's third consecutive start in goal was a memorable one. He made 30 saves, including 13 in the third period, and stopped seven of eight shots during UND power plays.

"He was especially sharp when the Fighting Hawks stormed the MSU zone a few minutes after they cut their deficit to 4-3.

"I don't think I've ever (experienced that). That was pretty incredible, that was amazing,'' Minney said of North Dakota's sustained pressure in the MSU zone and high amount of shot attempts. "I don't think I've ever seen our guys that desperate, blocking shots and doing everything they could. I think they had more saves than I did.

"I thought that was our best 60 minutes as a team. We had guys contributing goals that you don't see on the scoresheet. Everyone was buzzing.''

Minney said Rosburg's first goal at 10:40 of the opening period gave his team a boost of confidence, tying the game 1-1.

"They got the first goal, then they had a breakaway and I made the save, and we went back down and scored, and I think we realized we can play with these guys,'' he said. "When we got the second goal, the feeling was that we can beat these guys.

"We kind of saw everything tonight. We got down, 1-0, tied it, got the lead, build on it and suddenly North Dakota climbs back into it. We had to protect the lead and we did it. It's nice to come out of it on the good side. In my years here, things like this sometimes wouldn't go our way, they would go the other way.''

This time, the Spartans made some good plays, got some luck and Minney played a big role in the biggest win of the season.

"I was seeing the puck well and our defensemen did a good job clearing them out,'' he said. "I thought I was competing on pucks pretty well. For the most part, I stopped everything I could see.''

ROSBURG DELIVERS: Jerad Rosburg is known as a solid stay-at-home defenseman. His strength is in defending, making smart plays and moving he puck to safety. On Friday, his strength was moving the puck into the net. Or, make that firing the puck into the net with perfect slap shots.

"It's definitely one of the most fun games I've ever played in. It was a great experience,'' said Rosburg, a 6-foot-1, 196-pounder whose previous residences have included Minneapolis, Boston, South Bend, Ind., Strongsville, Ohio and Atlanta and now lists Clarksville, Md., as the family home.

"I'm just glad I could contribute to the team tonight. (Sam) Saliba made two great passes to give me the puck on both (goals), so it really started with him. I got it on net and good things happened.''

Rosburg, who sat out all of last season after undergoing knee surgery in September, 2015, scored his first collegiate goal in the second game of the season at Lake Superior State on Oct. 15.

He added an assist on Friday, setting up Cox with a nice pass for the goal that turned out to be the game-winner. Cox's wrist shot from the right point eluded UND goalie Cam Johnson.

"Joe made a good bury there. We moved the puck around and got it to Joe and he had the good shot. It was great to see the power play connect.

"The win is a big statement for this team. It's a great learning experience. For the majority of game, our defense played very well. We kept it simple, played smart and communicated. The guys did a great job blocking shots, laying their bodies on the line. It was a great way to finish.''

Rosburg also communicated with his family after the game. His father, Jerry, a longtime football coach, is the special teams coordinator/associate head coach for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens and played college football at North Dakota State, the Fighting Hawks' in-state rival in Fargo, N.D.

"He was watching back home. There were 20 family members watching,'' Jerad said. "My dad played at North Dakota State so it was good to play North Dakota like he did. Go Bison.''

THE FIGHTING HAWKS VIEW: UND coach Brad Berry liked his team's start but said "then it got away from us a little bit for a couple of reasons.''

The Fighting Hawks failed to finish on numerous chances and got bogged down by taking five straight penalties from early in the second period to early in the third.

"It was a lack of execution and taking penalties and you don't get momentum,'' said Berry, who guided North Dakota to the NCAA title last season in his first year as coach. "So, it was one of those things where you have to sustain momentum.

"(Midway through the third period), we were getting pucks in deep and making better decisions with the puck, and giving ourselves to play their end of the rink. There was an urgency there.

"We got a goal on the 4-on-4 and one shortly after, but you can't get to that point. You have to make sure you build up momentum earlier in the game.''

UND took eight minor penalties, two in the first period, four in the second and two in the third period. The fighting Hawks were 1-for-4 on the power play and gave up two power-play goals in six MSU chances.

"I thought we didn't come up with the right mindset and looked past them,'' UND senior defenseman Gage Ausmus told the Grand Forks Herald. "That's a thing with a young team and any team. In college, you have to realize that anyone can beat you, no matter what their record is. I think we kind of came into this game not focused or prepared for what they had to bring.''

UND suffered its second straight home defeat. That's the same number the Fighting Hawks had lost at home in the previous 36 games, going back three seasons.

SPARTAN CONNECTION: North Dakota freshman forward Ludwig Hoff is the son of former Spartan forward, Geir Hoff, who played for MSU for two seasons -- 1985-86 and 1986-87. Geir played on the Spartans' 1986 NCAA championship team, and had three goals and 11 assist for 14 points in 39 games. In his second season, Hoff scored three goals and had nine assists in 38 games in 1986-87.

Ludwig Hoff, a 5-foot-10, 196-pounder from Oslo, Norway, has two goals and two assists for four points in 13 games this season for the Fighting Hawks. In Friday's game, Hoff did not have a shot on goal and took two hooking penalties, and the Spartans scored on the first power play late in the first period.

Hoff, 20, spent the last two-and-a-half seasons in the U.S. Hockey League with the Lincoln Stars. Last season, he scored 20 goals and collected 37 assists for a team-leading 57 points in 56 games.

He's the first Norwegian to play at UND.

IN THE BIG TEN: MSU and Wisconsin posted road victories while Michigan lost at home and Minnesota suffered a road defeat.

The Badgers edged Colorado College 2-1 in Colorado Springs. Lake Superior State broke a 1-1 tie with the go-ahead goal with 2:57 left and scored shorthanded into an empty net with 1:03 to go to upend the No. 16 Wolverines, 3-1, at Yost Arena. Wisconsin and Colorado College and LSSU and U-M meet again on Saturday.

Meanwhile, in Boston, No. 11 Minnesota held a 4-2 lead only to see it disappear as Northeastern rallied with four unanswered goals in the third period to knock off the Gophers, 6-4. Minnesota is off Saturday but completes its Eastern trip with a Sunday afternoon game at No. 4 Boston College.

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