DETROIT — In a matchup that harkened back to a crisp afternoon in Albany last April 4, North Dakota beat Michigan State, 5-4, in overtime to snap the Spartans’ four-year streak of Great Lakes Invitational titles.
The title game of the tournament proved to be a thrilling rematch of the semifinals of the 2001 Frozen Four. As was the case in the previous game, and a total of 11 straight games since 1980, the Fighting Sioux denied the Spartans of a victory.
The game’s outcome held equal importance to the two programs, whose paths have diverged widely since last season.
If anything could jump-start North Dakota (9-9-1) from a seemingly dismal first half, it was the sight of winger Brandon Bochenski slapping a failed wraparound attempt off the stick of Andy Schneider through Ryan Miller’s legs at 7:09 of the overtime period. The goal gave the Fighting Sioux their second overtime victory in as many nights and the 2001 GLI championship.
Some on the Fighting Sioux saw the game, and the tournament, as a building block, at least. “We needed to start the second half of the season with some confidence and some chemistry on this team,” senior defenseman Aaron Schneekloth said.
Michigan State (13-4-2) didn’t see it as a single loss — the end of the GLI streak and the extension of consecutive losses to North Dakota were viewed with due consideration.
“We’re learning as we go, we can’t mope, whine and complain,” Miller said. “We need to use this as an incentive.”
After first-period goals by North Dakota’s James Massen and Michigan State’s Brock Radunske, North Dakota unleashed a scoring flurry that was reminiscent of last year’s dominance.
At the 10:16 mark, left winger Ryan Bayda skated in on Miller — though Miller thwarted his backhand attempt, the junior’s momentum knocked Miller out of position. With Miller flattened and halfway out of the crease, Skarperud lunged at the loose puck with a backhand and tapped it off Miller and in for his sixth goal, his second of three points in the game and the 2-1 advantage.
Less than two minutes later, the Fighting Sioux struck again. Rory McMahon streaked down the right side and fed the puck to a cutting Ryan Hale. Hale reached out and gently directed the puck past Miller’s left foot for his fifth goal and the 3-1 lead.
Finally, with the Spartans’ down two men, the Fighting Sioux seemed to put Michigan State away. Defenseman Aaron Schneekloth took a feed from Skarperud and beat Miller with a point blast for the three-goal lead.
The Fighting Sioux rekindled the dying embers of a memorable 2000-2001 campaign with its three-goal explosion in the first period, but couldn’t quell Michigan State’s tenacity in the second and third periods, when the Spartans struck back with three straight goals of their own.
Liles stepped up first for Michigan State at the 4:23 mark of the second. The junior tapped the puck past Siembida’s right skate for the power-play goal and a two-goal deficit.
Then, in the third period, Liles struck again. All alone between the circles, the defenseman took a feed from left winger Kevin Estrada and beat Siembida on the glove side at the period’s 12:09 mark.
With the Fighting Sioux reeling, the object for Michigan State consisted of beating the clock. Fast concluded the comeback with a little over a minute and a half left, taking a Duncan Keith pass and wristing the puck through Siembida’s five-hole for the 4-4 tie. Keith and Fast accounted for points six and seven by the Michigan State defense on the night.
But in the end, a streak ended and a streak continued.
“We’re getting better,” North Dakota coach Dean Blais said. “We’re thrilled.”