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Neil’s Notebook: Spartans Get Hard-Earned Tie at No. 5 North Dakota

Nov. 27, 2016

By Neil Koepke staff writer

GRAND FORKS, N.D. – A series sweep would have the perfect way for Michigan State to close out Thanksgiving weekend on the road.

Still, a win and a tie is still a pretty tasty result, especially when you’re playing the No. 5 team in the nation, and in front of crowds of more than 10,000 each game at spectacular Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Thus, the Spartans were feeling pretty good on Saturday night after a hard-earned 2-2 tie against North Dakota, one day after holding on for a 4-3 victory in the non-conference opener.

“Coming in here this weekend, there were a lot of people who doubted us, that this series wasn’t going to be close,’’ MSU junior goalie Ed Minney said. “To come in here and win the first game and play like we did tonight to get a tie, it’s a big confidence boost for our team and for me.

“When we play like that, we’re hard to beat. Coach (Tom Anastos) said at the beginning of the week that we were coming here to win, not to just get better. Everyone took that to heart and that was the best two games we’ve played this season.’’

And it was the best back-to-back games for Minney, who spent the last two seasons backing up starter Jake Hildebrand and is finally getting his chance to prove he can be a reliable collegiate goaltender.

Minney, 20, who’s 6-foot-5 and 197 pounds, made 32 saves on Saturday and 30 in Friday’s victory.

“It’s hard not to be nervous when you’re tied 2-2 at North Dakota, but the guys are looking to me to kind of set a feel for the game,’’ Minney said. “If they see me back there looking uncomfortable and panicking, then everyone is going to be kind of on their toes.



“But when I’m back there and the other team is shooting from the point and I’m in control, calm and making saves, that gives everyone a confidence boost.’’

Unlike Friday in which the Spartans (4-6-1 overall) held a 2-1 lead after the first period, extended it to 3-1 in the second and 4-1 early in the third, MSU faced a 2-1 deficit after the first period on Saturday.

But freshman Patrick Khodorenko tied it early in the second period with a tap-in into an open net for his second goal of the season.

That was the last time the puck found its way over the goal line as Minney and North Dakota goalie Cam Johnson each made a few clutch saves and were helped by alert defense and some good luck.

“Minney was like a rock back there all weekend,’’ said red-shirt freshman defenseman Jerad Rosburg, who had two goals and an assist on Friday. “We relied on him a lot. And he made some big saves. He kept us in the games. It was a heck of a weekend for him.’’

Penalty killers Joe Cox and Thomas Ebbing teamed up for a shorthanded goal seven minutes in the game to give MSU a 1-0 lead. Cox retrieved his own rebound behind the net and saw Ebbing charging down the middle and fed him with a perfect pass.

Ebbing one-timed the pass into the right corner at 7:36.

But the Fighting Hawks (7-5-3, 2-3-1 NCHC) rallied quickly. They scored on Zach Yon’s shot from the slot 39 seconds after Ebbing’s goal, and UND’s power play goal by defenseman Tucker Poolman, from the right point, 4 minutes and 10 seconds later, gave North Dakota a 2-1 lead after one period.

Khodorenko scored the tying goal at 5:41 of the second period just second after a breakaway by Taro Hirose was stopped by Johnson. The puck went behind the net and somehow a UND defenseman slid the puck out front.

Johnson was out of his net to the right of the goal, and the puck may have gone off his skate, right to Khodorenko, standing alone at the edge of the crease. He had an easy tap-in for his second goal of the season.

That was the last time the puck crossed the goal line as the remaining 34 minutes and 19 seconds were scoreless. But there were times when each team had great chances to take the lead. The Spartans (4-6-1) are on a bit of a streak. They haven’t lost in three games, winning two and tying one – all on the road.

“This gave a lot of guys experience in playing in a tough environment like this, against a very talented team, plus having a little bit of success helps your confidence,’’ Anastos said of the two games against North Dakota. “It shows what you have to do to compete.

“We felt we’d go through that. And North Dakota has a young group, too. They do have a number of guys who experienced a national championship (last April) and that experience is meaningful.

“So, for us to come here and play a team like that, we leave here understanding more about ourselves. I’m sure our confidence grew.’’

Michigan State got a break in this series because North Dakota standout forward Brock Boeser, a sophomore, missed both games due to an upper-body injury. Boeser is the Fighting Hawks’ second-leading scoring with seven goals and nine assists for 16 points. Last season as a freshman, the Vancouver Canucks first-round draft pick (23rd overall) in 2015, led UND with 27 goals and 60 points in 42 games.

Despite trailing 2-1 after the first period, Anastos said he liked the way he team was playing.

“I liked our first period overall. I expected a big push from them, coming off of last night, and I thought we responded pretty well,’’ he said. “I liked where we were, coming into the first intermission.

“In many regards, we played better tonight than Friday night. Our game was more complete. We didn’t win special teams and we didn’t generate the shots that we would like to, but they’re very good defensively.

“In spite of the shot differential, I thought a lot of theirs were perimeter shots. We defended pretty well and didn’t give up much off the rush. So, a good effort overall.’’

The Fighting Hawks outshot the Spartans 34-20, and were dangerous here and there, but they didn’t have the dominating stretches they had in the last 10 minutes of Friday’s 4-3 victory.

“We competed hard and played defense from the inside of the rink to the outside and made it much harder for them,’’ Anastos said. “They did the same to us. Our compete level was good, our positional play was pretty good.

“If there was an area that we need to clean up, it’s that we gave the puck up to their points too much. I thought it was too easy and that created some danger.’’

Among the many positives about his team was the play by Minney, who’s made four straight starts and seems to get more relaxed and confident with each game.

“He played really well. He looked comfortable in the net, played with poise, and this is a good team and a tough building to play in,’’ Anastos said. “I thought he’s stepped up his game. It’s another sign of growth.’’

COX, EBBING EXCEL: Senior forwards and linemates Joe Cox and Thomas Ebbing were among the Spartans’ best players on Saturday. Cox and Ebbing showed a lot of hustle and grit to combine for MSU’s first goal – shorthanded by Ebbing – to open the scoring.

They were solid defensively, they killed penalties, and Cox had a point-blank shot stopped by UND goalie Cam Johnson with 9:20 left in the third period.

“I thought Cox and Ebbing were really good. That was probably their best effort of the season,’’ Anastos said. “They made smart plays, they were strong and they battled all game.’’

Ebbing’s shorthanded goal stunned the Engelstad Arena crowd just 7:36 into the game. Fighting Hawks fans were probably thinking, “Uh, oh, here we go again,’’ thinking back to Friday’s stunning loss.

Cox got the puck from Ebbing and battled along the left boards to maintain possession and raced into the UND zone, got a shot off that Johnson stopped.

But a persistent Cox battled for the rebound behind the net, saw a trailing Ebbing racing into the slot. He fed him with a perfect pass and Ebbing one-timed the puck into the right corner of the net for his first goal of the season.

In the second period, with the Spartans hemmed in their zone, Cox sprawled out along the boards to the left of the MSU net to clear a loose puck out of the zone.

“I feel better about our overall game, even though I would have loved to have a win tonight,’’ Anastos said.

3-ON-3 WORKS FOR SPARTANS: After the usual five-minute overtime, with the teams playing 5-on-5, didn’t decide a winner and the game was officially a tie in each team’s overall record, MSU and UND went to a 3-on-3 overtime for five minutes, basically for entertainment purposes only.

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference adopted the procedure last season to break ties and award an extra point in league games. So, NCHA teams play a regular overtime, like all NCAA teams, and if the game is still tied, they play 3-on-3 for five minutes, and if no one scores, they go to a shootout. The second OT or shootout winner gets two points, the loser one, just like in the Big Ten for the shootout. Regulation and normal OT wins are worth three points and the loser gets no points.

North Dakota has played in a few 3-on-3 overtimes, but Michigan State has never been involved in it.

So, guess which team flourished in the second OT on Saturday?

It took the Spartans just 58 seconds to score the “winning” goal, and it came off the stick of red-shirt freshman defenseman Jerad Rosburg, who had two goals in the first period on Friday night.

After MSU goalie Ed Minney made a good save on UND’s Tyson Jost, the Spartans’ trio of Rosburg and forwards Patrick Khodorenko and Mason Appleton gathered in the puck and tried to make something happen.

Rosburg got the puck, drove down the right wing and headed for the net. He got in close and shot the puck between the legs of Johnson, and ignited a raucous celebration with teammates, even if the goal didn’t decide anything.

“It’s a fun format. I always watch it on NHL games and the world Cup is like that. It’s exciting,’’ Rosburg said. “It’s a possession kind of game when it’s 3-on-3. We just tried to regroup and come up with some speed.

“I got the edge on the guy and got it in five hole. I’m just glad we “won” it for the boys.’’

Rosburg, known as a defensive-style defenseman, said he wasn’t worried about getting caught down low and the Fighting Hawks going the other way with an odd-man rush.

“I trust my teammates to cover for me. That’s how 3-on-3 is. You have to take chances because it’s up and down the ice. You’re not going to sit back the whole time. I saw an opportunity and took it.’’

What did Khodorenko think when he saw Rosburg racing down the ice?

“I just thought ‘go do something . . . like put the puck in,’’’ he said. “I was just crashing the net looking for a rebound. But he made a great play and somehow the puck went in the net.

“There’s a lot of 2-on-1s in 3-on-3. Jost had a good shot on Minney just before. We went back the other way and tried to settle the puck down, Rosburg went wide and put it in.’’

If college hockey had 3-on-3 in overtime, like the NHL, Khodorenko and Appleton would have earned assists on Rosburg’s goal. Instead, nothing counts and MSU and UND skated off with a tie.

“This (series) shows that we can compete against the best teams in the country,’’ Rosburg said. “We’ve got a lot of talent, we’re a good team and we’re hoping to build on this weekend.’’

UP NEXT: The Spartans are off from regular season play next weekend, but they do have an exhibition game against the U.S. Under-18 team at 3 p.m. next Sunday at Munn Arena.

MSU begins Big Ten play on Dec. 10-11 with a two-game series against Minnesota at Munn Arena. The Dec. 10 game starts at 6:30 p.m. and the Dec. 11 contest begins at 8 p.m. Both games will be televised by the Big Ten Network.

IN THE BIG TEN: Michigan rebounded from Friday’s 3-1 loss to Lake Superior State to earn a non-conference series split with a 4-1 victory on Saturday at Yost Arena.

After pulling out a 2-1 win at Colorado College on Friday, Wisconsin didn’t fare as well against No. 2 Denver on Saturday. The Pioneers topped the Badgers 6-5. No. 11 Minnesota had Saturday off but faces No. 4 Boston College at 1 p.m. on Sunday. The Gophers are coming off a frustrating 6-4 loss at Northeastern on Friday in which they squandered a 4-2 lead in the third period, as the Huskies stormed back to score four unanswered goals.

No. 8 Penn State and No. 13 Ohio State had this weekend off.

The Big Ten season officially opens this week as Michigan plays at Penn State on Thursday and Friday, and Minnesota plays host to Ohio State on Friday and Saturday.

Wisconsin plays a home non-conference series against Omaha on Friday and Saturday.

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