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Neil's Notebook: Inspiring Comeback Ends in OT Loss

Dec. 31, 2016

By Neil Koepke
MSUSpartans.com staff writer

DETROIT – Is it possible to have a heartbreaking loss in a third-place game (AKA, consolation game) at a holiday tournament in December?

If it’s against your main rival and it’s the final time you’ll play in a legendary tournament at a legendary arena, well, the answer is yes.

Michigan State felt that pain on Friday after an inspired three-goal, game-tying comeback in the third period didn’t have a satisfying ending. Instead, it ended in a 5-4 overtime loss to Michigan in the 52nd Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena.

The Spartans (4-11-1, 0-2) came within a good bounce of an early overtime victory but fell victim to a bad bounce less than a minute later as Tony Calderone scored from edge of the crease at 2:58 of the extra period to win it for the Wolverines (8-9-1, 1-3).

One minute, emotions were up. The next, they were down for the Spartans.

“Obviously, any time you play your biggest rival, it doesn’t matter if it’s a game on a pond on a Sunday in your backyard. It’s against Michigan,’’ MSU sophomore right wing Mason Appleton said. “It’s probably the worst loss we could have to a team.’’

In the final GLI third-place game at Joe Louis Arena - next season, the tournament moves to the new Little Caesar’s Arena - the Spartans fell behind 3-1 in the first period and 4-1 in the second.

But the momentum shifted to MSU on a power play to start the third period. The Spartans won the faceoff by Sam Saliba and defenseman Zach Osburn’s pass sent Mason Appleton in on a breakaway, and he fired the puck into the top right corner just seven seconds into the period. Suddenly, it was 4-2.

 

 

Less than five minutes later, defenseman Carson Gatt scored from the left point to cut Michigan’s lead to 4-3.

With 2:10 left, JT Stenglein slid a loose puck in front into the left corner to tie it 4-4 and set up an exciting overtime.

After Stenglein, Appleton, Thomas Ebbing and Logan Lambdin had shots on goal and defenseman Mitch Eliot’s shot went over the net just above the crossbar early in the overtime, the Wolverines’ Jake Slaker, Dexter Dancs and Calderone combined for the winner.

The Spartans outshot the Wolverines, 44-35, including 4-2 in overtime.

“We’ve been in a position like that before and we kind of took a look to our left and right and said ‘we have nothing to lose, so let’s go out and give it everything we got,’’’ Osburn said of MSU’s three-goal deficit in the third period. “We got a couple quick goals and the momentum swung in our favor.’’

Osburn said he and his teammates felt they were going to end up winning it in OT.

“I thought we had their backs against the wall with the momentum,’’ he said. “We were getting good scoring chances and we I thought we were going to bury a goal and win it.’’

Said Appleton:

‘We found ourselves in a hole, 4-1, but we knew that if we stuck to our keys and did the little things, we could get back in the game. Going into the third period, we had the power play and that gave us momentum.

“At 4-2, we just chipped away and got those gritty, good goals that we wanted to tie it. It’s just unfortunate that last bounce happened to go in for the overtime winner.’’

Instead of a positive ending to the final GLI-at-the-JLA, the Spartans, who lost to Western Michigan, 4-1, in Thursday’s GLI semifinal, have now lost five straight games, after a three-game unbeaten streak which included road victories over Ferris State and North Dakota and a tie against the Fighting Hawks.

What’s ahead for the Spartans? Five straight road games, beginning with next weekend’s series at Wisconsin, and the challenge of not getting down and getting better, especially with special teams.

“Consistency is key. I didn’t have the game I wanted to have on Thursday and some others didn’t have they game they wanted,’’ Appleton said. “We lost 4-1 and special teams were big all weekend.

“Our penalty kill wasn’t where we want it to be on Thursday and obviously, special teams at the college level are really important because goals are hard to come by.

“What I take away (from the two losses at the GLI) is it’s a special teams battle and we’ve got to get better on both the power play and penalty kill, and I think on 5-on-5, keep doing some of the things we’re doing to get the success we want.’’

Appleton led MSU with eight shots on goal, while Stenglein had six, one night after putting nine shots on goal vs. WMU.

Coach Tom Anastos said his message to his team between the second and third period was to “keep working for the next goal, keep playing the right way, stay within what we’re trying to do.’’

“The key was to keep that pressure on until we could get one,’’ Anastos said. “I told them I don’t care how it goes in, just figure out a way to get one in and see if we could create some momentum.

“I thought we generated a lot of good quality chances in both games. In fact, in back-to-back games, we had as many quality chances as we’ve had in a long time. But nothing was going into the net for us.’’

And it was probably going in a little too easily for Michigan.

The Wolverines jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the game was seven minutes old, the first goal coming on a power play, the fifth power-play goal MSU gave up in the two GLI games.

Calderone tapped in Cooper Marody’s rebound after Marody’s shot hit the post and deflected into the crease at 3:57 of the opening period.

Less than three minutes later, freshman Will Lockwood stole the puck from MSU in the neutral zone, and skated down the left wing into the Spartan zone, cut into the middle and fired the puck back to his left and caught the left corner of the net, beating MSU freshman goalie John Lethemon (30 saves) at 6:18.

Spartan freshman Logan Lambdin got his team back within one goal when the scored from the left circle at 8:11, after talking a long pass up the left wing from Gatt. But U-M answered quickly as Alex Kile found a loose puck around the crease and tapped it past Lethemon and into the far left corner at 9:57 for a 3-1 lead.

It looked like a blowout was just ahead when Kile deflected defenseman Sam Piazza’s shot past Lethemon for the only goal of the second period at 13:42 for a 4-1 lead, despite MSU holding a 15-8 edge in shots in the period.

Michigan State orchestrated its best comeback of the season in the third period as Appleton, Gatt and Stenglein beat U-M senior goalie Zach Nagelvoort (40 saves) to keep the game going for an extra period.

The Spartans’ four goals are the most they’ve scored since their last two victories – 4-3 at Ferris State on Nov. 12 and 4-3 at North Dakota, Nov. 25.

MSU went 1-for-5 on the power play and Michigan was 1-for-2, so the Spartans did a good job staying out of the penalty box.

“I thought we had some good looks (on the power play) but we couldn’t finish. That’s been a bit of a story for us because we’ve had some good possession, good looks and we’ve moved the puck around,’’ Anastos said. “On Thursday, we had a hard time getting the puck to the net. (Western Michigan) blocked a lot of shots.

“Tonight, we had some very good opportunities – some didn’t connect and some they made some big saves. At the start of the third period, it was a faceoff play that got us that goal (by Appleton).

“You call faceoff plays all the time and not always are they executed to perfection. But I don’t know how long it took to score that quick, but it was executed well, and the team gets a jump from that, and not just because of the goal. Because it was well executed and we were able to build off that.’’

SLOW START, STRONG FINISH: That was the way it was for the Spartans on Friday and freshman goalie John Lethemon, making his first appearance since early November.

Lethemon looked shaky at times in the opening first period but he settled down and looked more comfortable in the second period and was sharp in the third period with several key saves that kept MSU in position to tie the game late.

“I thought Johnny was fighting it. He hasn’t played in a while and I thought about potentially taking him out in the first period,’’ MSU coach Tom Anastos said. “Yet, I wanted to give him a chance to kind of recover. Their second goal, Lockwood made a nice play but we turned the puck over in the neutral zone and he came at us fast. (Defenseman) Rhett (Holland) was in an awkward position and he took advantage of that and made a great shot.

“I didn’t like their third goal (by Kile), but Johnny made a couple of saves later in that period and you could see his confidence level rise, and that was one of the reasons why we played him tonight. I want to try to build his confidence, and we gave him the opportunity to do it. As the game went on, he got better and better and made some key saves.’’

Lethemon hadn’t played since the 5-1 home loss against Michigan Tech on Nov. 5. Junior Ed Minney played the next eight games.

“We’ve had some inconsistency in the net lately, and it hasn’t been on big saves. It’s been on routine saves,’’ Anastos said. “We have to find consistency there.’’

HAIL TO THE CHAMPS – THE BRONCOS: The first GLI title game played at Joe Louis Arena in 1979 went into three overtimes before a winner was decided. The final GLI game at The Joe also went into overtime, although only one, as Western Michigan’s Colt Conrad scored from the edge of the crease at 11:55 of OT to give the Broncos a 1-0 victory in front of an announced crowd of 16,878.

Like the MSU-Michigan game, the game got interesting and exciting in the third period with plenty of great scoring chances at both ends of the rink. There were plenty of close calls in overtime but it took 12 minutes before the puck finally went into the net.

Colt Conrad beat Tech goalie Angus Redmond from the edge of the crease to give WMU its second GLI title in the last four seasons and third overall.

The Huskies gave up one goal in its two GLI games and ended up as the disappointed runner-up.

Redmond, who blanked Michigan, 2-0, on Thursday, made 24 saves. The Broncos’ Ben Blacker, who gave up one goal against Michigan State on Thursday in a 4-1 win, stopped 23 shots.

The GLI All-Tournament team included Blacker in goal; Michigan Tech’s Cliff Watson and WMU’s Corey Schuenem on defense and forwards Conrad and Matthew Iacopelli of WMU and Tony Calderone of Michigan.

The fourth team in next season’s GLI – at Little Caesar’s Arena – is Bowling Green. Michigan State will play Michigan Tech and Michigan faces the Falcons in the semifinals.

In the first GLI championship final at Joe Louis Arena, Michigan Tech defeated Michigan 5-4 at 2:28 of the third (10-minute) overtime on Dec. 29, 1979. The winning goal was scored by Mel Pearson, now in his sixth season as the Huskies’ coach.

IN THE BIG TEN: Minnesota was the only other Big Ten team, besides the Spartans and Wolverines, to see action on Friday. The Gophers advanced to the finals of their Mariucci Classic in Minneapolis with a 5-1 victory over Mercyhurst. Minnesota plays Massachusetts in Saturday’s championship game. UMass advanced to the final with a 2-1 victory in overtime over Alabama-Huntsville.

Ohio State plays its first game since Dec.3 when it plays host to Miami in a non-conference on Saturday at Value City Arena.

Wisconsin and Penn State are idle this week and return to action next weekend, with the Badgers hosting Michigan State and the Nittany Lions visiting Ohio State in Big Ten series.

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