GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. —
What a Turnaround
Resiliency and courage are words used to describe Spartans dating back to ancient Greece, and Michigan State’s 2006-07 edition is no different. From an early-season ranking in the top five of the country to a dismal finish that saw the Spartans collapse at the end of the regular season, MSU has repeatedly pulled itself off of the mat and found a way to win.
On November 13, 2006, MSU was rated fourth in the USCHO.com/CSTV poll. Less than a month later, the Spartans were swept by Minnesota and Wisconsin in the College Hockey Showcase. With a 7-7-1 record, things looked bleak for one of the preseason favorites to make the Frozen Four.
The Spartans rebounded for an 11-1-2 streak dating from early December through the first week of February. But that stretch came to a crashing halt during a February 10 matchup with Michigan in which the Spartans dominated early, earned a 3-0 lead, and collapsed late to barely salvage a 3-3 tie.
A fragile team robbed of its confidence by its bitter rival emerged from Joe Louis Arena, starting a season-ending swoon in which the Spartans could only muster one win in their last six contests. Goals of winning the CCHA title and advancing to the Frozen Four were replaced with a desperate effort to finish in the top four of the CCHA, and simply to earn a week off to regroup.
They had more than lost their confidence; they had been beaten badly by Western Michigan, Ferris State, and Bowling Green.
And now, just three weeks later, the Spartans somehow found a way to beat Boston University and Notre Dame — two teams who were better almost all season long at playing nearly the same style of game MSU played — to advance to the Frozen Four.
Jeff Lerg might not have won a slew of awards this season, but Comley and the Spartans would not prefer anyone else in net in a one-and-done situation. In four NCAA tournament games, Lerg boasts a microscopic 1.50 goals against average and stellar .947 save percentage. And considering that Lerg took MVP honors in a region with a pair of Hobey Baker finalist goaltenders, David Brown and John Curry, he’s proven that he can outduel the best netminders in the country.
With Maine and MSU winning their respective regions, the Spartans will have an opportunity to extract revenge from the Black Bears for a crushing defeat in last season’s NCAA tournament. After a sluggish start in which MSU spotted Maine an early 3-0 lead, the Spartans battled back to 5-4, but a Colton Fretter crossbar in the waning seconds was as close as they could get.
“All summer long, and even during the season, those 10 minutes and losing that game to Maine to miss out on the Frozen Four was all I could think of,” said netminder Jeff Lerg. “Even before the game tonight, I thought of that Maine game last year.”
Michigan State might not have won a regular-season or postseason championship, but being paired with the league’s champion, Notre Dame, was a great opportunity for the Spartans to prove that they could battle with the best in the country. Interestingly enough, the Spartans may be the only team that can legitimately argue that it was better than Notre Dame. After a 4-1 loss to the Irish in November, the Spartans rebounded to take the next two games, a 2-0 shutout win and tonight’s 2-1 victory.
Upon Further Review
MSU had a second-period goal reviewed and ultimately overturned by referee Peter Feolay. On first blush it seemed as if the Spartans were robbed of a huge momentum marker, but they responded for a goal almost instantly.
Still, the reach of video review has been plainly evident in this year’s tournament play. Unfortunately for MSU, Saturday’s disallowed goal marked the fourth goal in the last four games that the Spartans have had taken away as a result of video replay.