Dec. 28, 2013
By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer
DETROIT - Michigan State's players' summation of Friday's Great Lakes Invitational semifinal under the sun and lights at Comerica Park was pretty simple:
"Great experience, bad result.''
For sophomore defenseman John Draeger, the end result was "heartbreaking.''
The Spartans came within one shootout save of earning a spot in Saturday's GLI championship game after MSU and Michigan Tech skated to a 2-2 tie after overtime.
But the Huskies rallied from a 1-0 deficit in the shootout and scored on its third attempt to stay alive and then won it 2-1 in the fifth round to advance to the GLI finals for the second straight year.
For the Spartans, it was the second straight year that they have lost in a shootout in the GLI semifinals. Last season, MSU and Western Michigan played to a 1-1 tie before the Broncos captured the shootout 1-0.
Michigan State (5-9-2 overall, 0-1-1-1 Big Ten) will play in the GLI third-place game at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday against Michigan (10-2-2, 3-5-0 NCHC). The Wolverines (10-3-2, 2-0 Big Ten) lost to Western Michigan, 3-2 in overtime, in Friday's second semifinal.
For the second consecutive year, Michigan Tech will play WMU for the GLI championship - at 7 p.m. on Saturday. Tech won last year's title game, 4-0.
The Spartans on Friday overcame a 1-0 deficit in the third period with two goals - by Matt Berry and Ryan Keller - in the first four minutes to take a 2-1 lead. The Huskies tied it at 8:13, and that was the end of the scoring - except for the shootout, which decided which team advanced.
MSU goaltender Jake Hildebrand was arguably the best player on the ice for both teams. He made 41 saves, including 19 in the second period and stopped two breakaways late in the third period.
"It's frustrating. It's heartbreaking,'' Draeger said. "Especially with Hildy playing great and we can't give him the win. He stopped two breakaways.
"He kept us in the game. It's a tough way to lose in the shootout. He made saves that he shouldn't be making. You can't ask for anything more.''
For Draeger and his teammates, the Hockeytown Winter Festival at Comeria Park, which is part of the Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium on Jan. 1, matching the Red Wings and Maple Leafs, is still a great, memorable experience.
"You look up and you see a little snow. There's nothing better,'' said Draeger, a sophomore from Faribault, Minn. "It was a great atmosphere. It was a great game - a tough result but a lot of fun.''
Hildebrand, who's from Pittsburgh, had never played hockey outdoors until Thursday's morning practice at Comerica Park.
"I didn't have the opportunity as a child to play outside,'' he said. "There weren't too many frozen ponds in Pittsburgh, so this is my first opportunity to play outdoors.
"It was an unbelievable experience. Our fans were awesome. Every time we scored, it was pretty loud. They were great - thanks to them.''
Three weeks ago, the Spartans experienced the excitement of a shootout victory when they tied Minnesota, 2-2, and then won the first shootout (1-0) in Big Ten history.
On Friday, MSU experienced the heartbreak, especially with what was on the line - no extra point but a GLI title game berth.
"We really wanted to be playing for a championship. That would have been great,'' MSU senior captain Greg Wolfe said. "Especially in that fashion - coming from behind. We took the lead, they tied it and we had some opportunities, but it just wasn't enough.
"It was a fun experience and we enjoyed it. . . just wish we could have had a different result.''
Berry, who got his first goal of the season, in only his fourth game, said the experience reminded him of his youth, growing up in Metro Detroit and playing outside.
"I was really fun . . . kind of like going back to the days of pond hockey when you were a kid,'' he said. "It was bad ice but still the same for both teams. We dealt with it and tried to battle through.''
Berry's said he wished the format for deciding tie games in a tournament like the GLI did not involve shootouts.
"It would be nice if there was continuous overtime, but unfortunately there isn't,'' Berry said. "I don't like the shootout. That's two years in a row we've lost (a GLI semifinal) because of it.''
Up until a few years ago, all GLI games, except the third-place contest, were decided in overtime - as many as needed. In order to avoid starting the second game late and long evenings for the fans, GLI officials decided to go with a shootout to decide semifinal ties.
SHOOTOUT REVIEW: In the five-round shootout, MSU's Michael Ferrantino shot first but was stopped by MTU goaltender Pheonix Copley. MSU goalie Jake Hildebrand followed with a save on Tech's Tyler Heinonen.
MSU's Matt Berry hit the right post and Hildebrand made an arm save on Alex Peton of the Huskies. In round three, the Spartans' Villiam Haag went to his backhand to beat MTU goalie Copley to give MSU a 1-0 edge.
With the game on the line, Tech's Tanner Kero beat Hildebrand with a wrist shot to the left corner to tie it, 1-1.
Afer MSU's Brent Darnell missed, the Huskies' Blake Pietilla was stopped by Hildebrand. In round 6, Copley made a glove save on MSU captain Greg Wolfe, but Ryan Furne of Tech beat Hildebrand to the lower left corner to give the Huskies the shootout victory.
ANASTOS' TAKE: MSU coach Tom Anastos said he felt bad for his players coming close to being in the championship game and not have it turn out their way.
"I'm disappointed for them because this is two years in a row. You target this tournament, as we're trying to rebuild our team and program,'' he said. "This is an opportunity to learn how to compete for a championship. We couldn't get over the hump and we had expectations to do that.
"I thought our guys competed hard. There was a lot of energy on the bench.'' The Spartans were outshot 43-26, but Anastos didn't think there was that much disparity in quality scoring chances, indicating that a lot of Michigan Tech shots were from the perimeter.
"Shots on goal sometimes can be misleading. I'm more curious to see scoring chances,'' he said. "In games like this, you throw the puck on goal from anywhere because you don't know how the puck is going to bounce.
"Not to discredit Michigan Tech's play, because they played hard and did a good job of getting pucks on net. I would guess that scoring chances favored them, but I think it was closer that the shots on goal indicated.''
MSU goalie Jake Hildebrand stopped 19 of 20 shots in the second period and the Spartans had only five shots on Tech goaltender Pheonix Copley, who had two shutouts in last year's GLI and was working on another until Matt Berry scored for MSU 52 seconds into the third period.
Three penalties -- at 3:25, 6:46 and 16:54 -hindered the Spartans in the middle period.
"We took ourselves out of any kind of rhythm. You hope to get through the first period and get better and better,'' Anastos said. "We took ourselves out of that, and then you have players (not getting on the ice) who are cold and that really hurt us.''
Michigan Tech had five shots on goal during the three power plays in the second period and eight shots for the game. The Huskies were 0-4 with the man advantage.
MSU, which had only one power play until the last minute of the second period, had six shots on goal during its three power plays. The Spartans capitalized as Berry found the net in the first minute of the third period. But on their last power play - starting with 3:30 left in the third period - they managed just one shot on goal. Overall, the Huskies had 87 attempts with 43 shots on goal, 31 off target, 10 blocked by the Spartans and two that hit the post or crossbar. MSU had 45 attempts, 26 shots on goal and nine blocked by the Huskies.
Atmosphere-wide, Anastos said he loved everything about the outdoor event, except for some ice conditions.
"Once the game starts up, you're not focusing too much outside that 200 x 85,'' he said. "But taking it all in leading up to the game, the atmosphere was terrific .
"It was a good crowd and the temperature was nice. It's a great setting to play outdoor hockey. We just would have liked to have had a different result.''
HILDEBRAND EXCELS: Jake Hildebrand's 41 saves against Michigan Tech are the second-most he's made this season. He stopped 44 shots in a 2-2 tie and shootout win over Minnesota on Dec. 6 at Munn Arena.
Hildebrand made tough saves, mid-level stops and easy saves in doing everything he could in putting the Spartans in position to win, as he's done almost in every game this season.
MSU coach Tom Anastos said Hildebrand's standard of play is set very high, based on his freshman season and what he's done this year.
"He's very steady and that's the expectation we have for him, and that's what he's capable of doing,'' Anastos said. "I was quite confident with him back there. He's one of those guys, as a sophomore, he's been able to demonstrate a key characteristic of a top goaltender on any level, and that's making the big save at the right time. We need that from him.''
Hildebrand lauded his teammates for blocking shots and keeping Tech forwards away from the net. Still, he made the big stops from close-in, when the Huskies got loose for quality chances.
Asked what he liked about his game, Hildebrand said:
"Controlling rebounds. I thought I did that pretty well,'' he said.
BERRY CONVERTS: Finally, junior forward Matt Berry got his first goal of the season on Friday, after playing in only four of MSU's first 16 games.
Defenseman Jake Chelios shot the puck from the left point and it was stopped by goalie Pheonix Copley, but it came loose and Berry rifled it past Copley from the left edge of the crease for to tie it 1-1.
"I knew that as soon as the puck came to my stick, I had to put it in the middle of the net,'' Berry said. "It was kind of a bad angle but I had pretty much most of the net, so I lifted it up and hammered it.''
Berry missed the Spartans' first eight games due to a lower-body injury that required offseason surgery. He played in two games and then missed four more, and played in MSU's last game against Ferris State on Dec. 14.
"It was nice to score my first goal and get back into things. It should help me get some of my confidence back in shooting the puck,'' said Berry, the Spartans' top scorer last season with 15 goals and 31 points.
GLI POTPOURRI: Friday's attendance for both games was announced at 25,449. . . . There's been three ties in GLI history and the Spartans have been involved in all of them. MSU and Michigan played to a 4-4 tie in the 1981 GLI third-place game. And in each of the last two seasons, the Spartans have tied in semifinal games vs. Western Michigan in 2012 and now MTU in 2013. . . . Never in GLI history have the same teams been in the finals and third-place game in back-to-back seasons. But that's because the four-team field has only once been the same in two seasons in a row. With Michigan Tech, MSU and Michigan regulars in the GLI since 1979, the fourth team has always been different from season to season, except for 1981 and 1982 when Notre Dame played in both tournaments. But while the Irish won the GLI in 1981, beating MTU, 4-3, it lost in the semifinals in 1982 to the Huskies, 9-6.