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Neil’s Notebook: USNTDP Alums Lead Spartans to Win Over Former Team

Dec. 17, 2017

By Neil Koepke staff writer

PLYMOUTH, Mich. – Michigan State is now 2-0 in exhibition games – a 3-0 win against one of the oldest teams it’ll play this season and a 3-0 victory vs. the youngest team.

On Saturday, the Spartans scored two power-play goals and an empty-netter in a 3-0 decision over the U.S. National Team Development Program’s U-18 team in front of 3,244 fans at USA Arena.

The U-18s are made up of many of the best 17-year-old players in the nation. They’re highly recruited and potential NHL players.

To start the season, MSU (8-9-1 overall, 2-7-1-1 Big Ten) defeated the University of Toronto, 3-0, a team with lots of players in the 22-25 age range.

Saturday’s game with the U-18s was the Spartans last before the holiday break and last game of any kind before 2018.

“There are lots of good things about this (game). They’re always good games, there’s high skill, they skate, they’re strong and they make you play a certain way. You have to play the right way,” said Spartans coach Danton Cole, who coached in the U.S. NTDP for seven years before coming back to coach his alma mater last April. “It’s a good mental test for our guys.’’ The U.S. 18s came out with great energy and caused MSU fits early in the game before the Spartans settled down, pushed back and rode special teams to a victory and confidence boost, even if the win and stats don’t count in overall records.

Sophomore center Patrick Khodorenko, who played for the U.S. U-17s in 2014-15 and the U-18s in 2015-16, scored MSU’s first and third goals – on a power play at 7:23 of the second period and an empty-netter to make it 3-0 with 1:30 left. Freshman David Keefer gave MSU some breathing room with a power-play goal at 17:01 of the third period that made it 2-0.



Senior goalie Ed Minney, a NTDP player from 2012-14, played well, looked calm and steady and got some good puck luck with a few bounces around the crease as he made 20 saves to blank a highly skilled U-18 team.

MSU’s penalty killers skated off seven U-18 power plays, including a 5-on-3 for 1: 24 early in the second period and with the game still scoreless.

“Our penalty killing was pretty good and we back-pressured a little toward the end when the game was on the line and there was a sense of urgency,’’ Cole said. “The mistakes we make are the same we always seem to make in terms of not getting on the right side of the puck or not getting pucks in deep.

“You always have to get a feel for the game, but no matter how many times you play (the U-18 team), you always underestimate them, especially in the first 10 minutes, before you get up to speed.’’

MSU has four NTDP alums on its roster – Khodorenko and Minney, senior forward Dylan Pavelek and freshman defenseman Tommy Miller – and they made an impact on Saturday.

“He was outstanding. There were several saves where there was a scrum abound the net and he had to be big and be there and hold his ground,’’ Cole said of Minney. “That’s not easy, especially when he hasn’t played a ton. On a lot of shots, he controlled rebounds and didn’t give up a lot of second chances.

“He looked really comfortable and that’s a big credit to him. (Sophomore goalie) John Lethemon has been carrying the mail and has done a good job, but Ed was really good tonight and the guys were pushing for him at the end (to get the shutout) because he’s been working so hard.’’

At the other end of the ice, future Spartan goalie Drew Ridder had a strong game, making 20 saves for the U-18 team, and only allowing two power-play goals in which he had no chance on either play - perfect backdoor set-ups and shots.

Minney wasn’t the only goalie Cole was impressed with on Saturday.

“I thought he looked outstanding. I’ve seen Drew for a long time and pucks just hit him, he’s really athletic, always square to the puck and works hard,’’ Cole said. “It was fun to watch him.

“I hope he wins a lot more games after this, but I’m glad he didn’t win tonight. But I’m glad he played well.’’

DeRidder was also glad he had a strong game but would have loved to have win. The ultra-competitive 5-foot-10, 168-pounder from Fenton hates losing and hates giving up goals.

“I thought I played pretty good. It’s good to play these college games because it’s great getting used to what you’re going to face next year,’’ he said. “It’s just a completely different style of hockey. Tonight, they were focused on defense and we’re focused on offense.’’

DeRidder joins MSU next season, enrolling for the second summer session in early July.

UP NEXT: The Spartans will practice Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before leaving on an eight-day break for the holidays. They return for practice on Dec. 28 to begin preparing for the Great Lakes Invitational at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Jan. 1-2. MSU plays Michigan Tech at 2:30 p.m. 1 and Michigan faces Bowling Green at 6 p.m. on Jan. 1. The third-place game and championship contest are at 2:30 and 6 p.m. on Jan. 2.

MINNEY SHARP: Senior goalie Ed Minney hasn’t played since replacing John Lethemon for the last two periods in a 7-2 loss at Penn State on Nov. 25, and hasn’t started since Nov. 10 against Wisconsin at home. But he was solid in Saturday’s start against the U-18 team.

“He and (coaches) Joe (Exter) and Jason (Muzzatti) have been doing a lot of extra work in order to be ready, because you never know,’’ MSU coach Danton Cole said. “This was a chance and he performed well.’’

Minney said he had a good week of practice and felt good right from the start of the game.

“I thought my intensity was good and I still had the calmness in the net. I felt I needed to be big and I did,’’ he said. “There were a couple of plays in front of the net where I was just competing, just battling.

“I definitely had a couple of good bounces, which is a little different because I’ve had a few bounces to go the other way this year. I had confidence going into the game.’’

Minney liked the way his team in front of him. That’s two shutouts in the last two games – the 5-0 blanking of Michigan on Dec. 2 and allowing zero goals on Saturday, even if the game is an exhibition contest.

“Our guys were taking their sticks away. There were a couple chances where they had some backdoor passes that we took away with our sticks,’’ Minney said. “We got off to a slow start and they made some players early. I don’t think we were playing that bad but I think we were caught by surprise how fast they were.

“Once our guys got wind of it, we elevated our game. I think we stepped it up and took it to them a bit.’’

GOOD SET-UPS, OPEN SHOTS: MSU’s Patrick Khodorenko played one season with the U.S. U-17 team at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube before the program moved to Plymouth’s USA Arena for is U-18 season. But he said didn’t have a lot of success scoring on home ice in his second season.

So, he’ll gladly take Saturday’s two goals, both set up by hard work and good passes by his linemates.

“I didn’t score a lot of home goals here for some reason when I played here, so it’s nice to get two goals here,’’ said Khodorenko, who is MSU’s third-leading scorer with six goals and nine assists in 15 points in 18 games.

“Taro made a great pass to me on the first goal. It was backdoor and I just had to put it in the net. (Lewandowski) made and a great play for the empty netter.’’

Lewandowski, who also assisted on Khodorenko’s first goal, made a hustling play to chip the puck out of the MSU zone, then chased it down along the left boards and fed the puck into the middle to Khodorenko, who hit the empty net.

“In the first period, we came out slow and they were playing fast and forechecked well, and tried to hit a lot,’’ Khodorenko said. “We knew they were going to be a fast, skilled team and we needed to play our game.’’

Khodorenko was impressed by the large crowd and good atmosphere in the building Saturday, and the way his team defended against the U-18s speed and skill.

“There’s a lot more people here than there were before. They’ve got a good show going on. It’s pretty fun to watch,’’ he said.

“It was a good game for our confidence. We got some offense out of our other power-play tonight, and we didn’t give up many big chances. There were a couple stray shots that were close but other than that I thought we defended well and kept them to the outside.’’

PLYMOUTH REUNION: MSU coach Danton Cole spent the last seven years with the U.S NTDP – five in Ann Arbor and two in Plymouth. Spartan freshman defenseman Tommy Miller played with the U.S. 18-team last season, the second season in Plymouth. For Cole and Miller, Saturday was a homecoming with lots of memories flooding back.

“It was a little odd being on the other side, warming up and not being in the (U.S.) weight room,’’ Miller said. “I know my parents have special seats in the corner and they probably thought it was odd, too.

“You spend time playing here and it goes by so fast and now you come back. It was a fun experience.’’

Cole, of course, knows so many people from his days in Ann Arbor and now Plymouth, and he coached the U-18s as U-17s last season so he knows the players very well.

“It’s nice to be back. There’s a lot of good people here and a lot of good memories of this organization,’’ Cole said. “It’s nice to see the (players) doing different things, and (U.S. coach) Seth Appert and those guys doing a great job. You can tell they’re getting better and better, and it’s fun to watch them progress.’’

Cole feels its important for Division I college teams to play the NTDP in Plymouth because of the exposure to the Detroit area.

“I think coming down to the Detroit area is good. There’s a bunch of universities that have played here this year and I think we should all collectively try and get five schools to play here every year.

“This a big market and there are a lot of kids that have a lot of options, and they could see how big college hockey is and how much fun it is in a building like this.’’

UPSET OF THE SEASON? Denver, ranked No. 2 in the country and No. 5 in the PairWise Rankings, played unranked Dartmouth, ranked 57th (of 60 teams) in the PWR, closed out their non-conference series on Saturday night in Denver.

In the first period, it looked like Denver (10-4-4, 5-3-2 NCHC) was on its way to an easy series sweep, building a 3-0 lead after winning the series opener, 1-0, on Friday. But the Big Green (3-8-1, 2-4-1 ECAC) pulled off arguably the biggest upset of the first half of the season by rallying with three straight goals in the second period, two more late in the third and then held on for a stunning 5-4 victory in front of 5,501 fans.

And Dartmouth did it without scoring a power-play play goal.

With the game tied 3-3 late in the third period, Collin Rutherford scored for the Big Green at 18:33 – his first goal of the season. Shane Steller, with his second goal of the game and only his second of the season, gave Dartmouth a 5-3 lead with an empty-netter at 19:03, before DU cut the lead to one at 19:33.

Here’s two previous surprising upsets that caught everyone’s attention:

>> Sacred Heart (Atlantic Hockey) 6, Notre Dame 4, Oct. 19, 2017, at Notre Dame. >> American International College (Atlantic Hockey) 3, Penn State 2 (OT), Oct. 20, 2017, at Penn State.

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