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Neil’s Notebook: GLI Semifinal Loss Sets Up Meeting With Michigan

Dec. 30, 2016

By Neil Koepke staff writer

DETROIT – Michigan State’s first game against Michigan this season was supposed to be on Jan. 20 at Yost Arena in Ann Arbor.

After the first two games of the Great Lakes Invitational on Thursday, that’s no longer the case.

The Spartans and Wolverines, much to the chagrin of both teams, find themselves matched against each other on Friday afternoon in dreaded the third-place game of the GLI at Joe Louis Arena.

Michigan State’s special teams were anything but special on Thursday as Western Michigan scored four power-play goals in the first two periods and cruised to a 4-1 victory in the GLI’s second semifinal.

The Broncos were not only good on the power play (4-of-7), they were quick. After the ensuing faceoff on their successful power plays, it took WMU seven seconds, 15 seconds, 15 seconds and 37 seconds to put the puck in the net behind Spartans goalie Ed Minney.

MSU’s only goal also came on a power play – by sophomore right wing Mason Appleton, during a five-minute manpower advantage which cut WMU’s lead to 3-1.

Meanwhile, in the opening game of the 52nd annual GLI, Michigan’s lack of offense continued as Michigan Tech scored one goal in each of the first two periods and held off the Wolverines in the third to claim a 2-0 victory and its fourth berth in the finals in the last five seasons.

So, it’s the Spartans (4-10-1, 0-2 Big Ten) and the Wolverines (7-9-1, 1-1) in the third-place contest at 3:30 p.m., the final time MSU and U-M will play in the GLI at Joe Louis Arena.

Michigan Tech (13-7-3, 11-3-2-1 WCHA) and WMU (9-5-3, 4-5-1 NCHC) meet for the 2016 GLI championship at 7 p.m.

“It’s a disappointing and frustrating game for us. I liked our start and actually, outside of special teams, I liked our first period,’’ MSU coach Tom Anastos said. “Special teams have been a real issue, of late in particular, and that cost us the game tonight.



“Western Michigan is a good team and they took advantage of special teams. We did not and that was the difference in the game. I liked our compete level. I thought we showed some frustration in the second period and we overcame it a bit in the third.’’

The Broncos were 4-for-7 on the power play, while the Spartans were 1-for-9, with four power plays coming in the third period and Western in control of the game.

In the opening period, Michigan State carried the play early and had a great opportunity to take a 1-0 lead at 3:09 but senior center Thomas Ebbing’s shot deflected off the left post, slid through the crease before it was covered.

A few minutes later, senior left wing JT Stenglein got open in front of the net but his attempt to slip the puck between the legs of Ben Blacker was stopped by the freshman goaltender.

The Broncos took advantage of MSU’s misses and took a 1-0 lead on Jade McMullen’s power-play goal at 11:31. Defenseman Corey Schueneman’s shot from the point was stopped by Minney, but the rebound came loose just outside the crease and McMullen tapped it past the Spartan goalie.

MSU’s puck luck continued to go bad later in the period as captain Joe Cox’s shot from the left point glanced off the catching glove of Blacker and he made another clutch save when Stenglein backhanded the puck out of mid-air toward the net.

A few seconds later, Cox was penalized for tripping. Fifteen seconds later, Sheldon Dries converted on the power play to put MSU into a 2-0 deficit.

In the second period, WMU went up 3-0 on a power-play goal by Griffen Molino at 8:52.

Michigan State had a good chance to get back in the game if they could have scored a couple goals on a five-minute power play, starting at 10:07, when Schueneman was assessed a major and game misconduct for checking from behind.

Appleton scored from the right circle at 12:33 but the Spartans, still on the power play for another 2:27, were unable to beat Blacker.

At 16:13, MSU defenseman Rhett Holland was called for tripping and once again, the Broncos converted, this time 37 seconds into the power play, for a 4-1 cushion.

“Shots were getting through, rebounds were laying there, sometimes the puck bounces right and sometimes it gets deflected and sometimes rebounds are moved to safer areas,’’ Anastos said. “Tonight, they made good plays to get pucks through.

“They blocked 19 shots. That’s a lot in a game. We had a hard time getting pucks to the net. They didn’t and they were able to capitalize.’’

Blacker, a 5-foot-10, 185-pounder from Oakville, Ontario, was making only his fourth start of the season and second since recovering from mononucleosis, which sidelined him for six weeks after the first week of the season. He made 29 saves, including 12 in the first period, and came through with big stops to keep MSU from getting back into the game.

“I thought their goaltender played outstanding,’’ Anastos said. “(On our power play), I thought we moved the puck around (pretty well) but we had a hard time creating enough danger. Those are big momentum shifts in the game.

“That (five-minute power play) gave us an opportunity to climb back into the game. It was nice to get one goal but we needed to get two, given where we were at that point in the game.’’

Michigan State’s penalty killing ranked No. 7 in the nation last season, successfully killing 86.4 of opponents’ power-play opportunities. The Spartans allowed on 18 power-play goals in 37 games.

This season, MSU ranks last (60th) in the country with only a 68.9 percent success rate. The Spartans have given up 23 power-play goals in 15 games.

“I think that like coach was saying, they had shots getting through from the point and rebounds were sitting there and not getting cleared out,’’ Cox said. “It was a combination of those things.

“Also, I would say it’s a lack of detail a little bit. Guys need to get in front of shots better and we need to smother rebounds. We gave up too many easy power-play goals two quick.’’

And even though the Spartans held a 38-33 edge in faceoffs, it seemed Western Michigan won most of the key faceoffs to start power plays in the MSU zone.

“It’s always tougher because they have an extra guy to jump in and help out the center,’’ Cox said. “But I thought we had a couple of good clears off the draws that we haven’t been seeing.’’

For Western Michigan coach Andy Murray, there was a lot to like about his team’s potent power play.

“Our entries were good and our faceoffs were good, so we ended up with possession right away and we didn’t have to chase a lot of pucks,’’ he said. “We had some good net traffic and some guys who can shoot the puck.

“We roll 2-3 power play units and we work on it all the time. It was certainly a huge part of the game tonight.’’

UP NEXT: It’ll be a fast turnaround for the Spartans, who will have to refocus quickly from the frustration of Thursday’s loss to the Broncos to facing its top rival in Michigan in the 3:30 p.m. third-place game.

“It’s the next game so it’s the most important game, and anytime we play against them, it’s very important,’’ Anastos said. “The frustration and disappointment of not playing in the championship game, we’ve got to get over it in a hurry.

“They lost earlier and they’re not going to feel too good about their game, and they’ll have it dialed up for tomorrow and we need to do the same thing.’’

Michigan State and Michigan will be meeting for the fifth time in the last six GLIs and third in the third-place contest.

In 2011, the teams met for the GLI title, with the Wolverines winning 3-2 in overtime. A year later, after U-M lost to Michigan Tech, 4-0, and MSU tied Western Michigan, 1-1, but lost the shootout to determine the spot in the finals, the Wolverines topped the Spartans, 5-2 in the third-place game.

At Comerica Park in 2013, Michigan State blanked Michigan, 3-0, in the third-place game. In 2014, the teams met for the GLI title with the Wolverines pulling out a 2-1 win.

SENIOR LINE DANGEROUS: It was a particularly frustrating night for MSU’s all-senior unit of Thomas Ebbing at center, Joe Cox on right wing and JT Stenglein on the left side.

The line worked hard, created turnovers in the WMU zone and created several quality scoring chances but couldn’t end plays with the puck in the Broncos’ net. The trio combined for 16 of the Spartans’ 30 shots on goal. Stenglein had nine shots on goal, including four in the first period, Ebbing had five shots and Cox chipped in two.

“Cox’s line, I thought they were great. There were possessing pucks and that’s why they were our best tonight,’’ said sophomore right wing Mason Appleton, who scored MSU’s only goal. They generated so many grade A chances.

“My line (with Patrick Khodorenko and Taro Hirose) wasn’t able to do that. It starts with moving our feet through the neutral zone and possessing pucks coming into the zone, so you don’t have to just dump them in and go and chase them.

“They (Cox, Ebbing and Stenglein) carried our offense. They were the ones that got all the chances. The dominated. Unfortunately, my line couldn’t do that. To win games, both of our lines have to dominate offensively.’’

Appleton had four shots on goal, Hirose two and Khodorenko none.

HUSKIES OUTDUEL WOLVERINES: Freshman goalie Angus Redmond made 23 saves to earn his second shutout of the season and Michigan Tech got both of its goals from defensemen in a 2-0 victory over Michigan in the opening GLI semifinal.

Sophomore Dane Birks scored his first goal of the season and his career when he deflected a shot by defensive partner Mark Auk at 5:46 of the first period.

Midway through the second period, senior defenseman Cliff Watson beat U-M goalie Hayden Lavigne (36 saves) with his first goal of the season to make it 2-0. Tech outshot the Wolverines in the second period, 19-3.

Michigan Tech and Western Michigan are meeting in GLI title game for the third time in the last four years, with each team winning one championship.

In 2012, the Huskies blanked the Broncos, 4-0, to win their first GLI championship since 1980, ending a 31-season drought.

A year later, WMU got revenge by edging Michigan Tech, 1-0, in overtime outdoors at Comerica Park to win its first GLI title.

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