As the coaching king of NCAA hockey, you could say Ron Mason borrowed a clich from the book he’s co-authored with the other coaching greats in sports.
“We just play every game and don’t think of the next,” said Mason after Michigan State’s 3-1 win over Ohio State in Munn Ice Arena leaves the Spartans with their 31-game home unbeaten streak intact. The win also gives MSU four-point lead in the CCHA standings.
The Spartans kept their Big Green Machine humming on the strength of two power-play goals and a 28-save performance by Ryan Miller.
Joe Goodenow started the scoring for Michigan State just under six minutes into the game. With Ohio State’s Pete Broccoli in the box for hooking, Goodenow capitalized on the power play when he took a feed from Mike Lalonde and beat goalie Mike Betz for his eighth goal and the 1-0 lead.
The Buckeyes responded with an easy-looking goal at the 8:13 mark of the second period. Winger Paul Caponigri carried the puck in to the right of Miller and let go a shot. The puck deflected off of Miller to the mouth of the crease, where the hard-charging Scott May promptly slammed the rebound into the open net for his 10th, knotting the score at 1-1.
The teams played an even second period until Ohio State made the mistake of putting the Spartans on the power play again with five minutes left in the period.
With the Buckeyes’ Jason Crain off for holding, Michigan State again pounced on the extra-man opportunity. Power-play quarterback John-Michael Liles faked a shot and sent the stickless Buckeye Ryan Smith sprawling across the ice. With room to work, Liles walked in and sent a pass to Ash Goldie, who was conveniently parked to Betz’s left. The freshman coolly waited for Betz to go down before sending the puck past the prostrate goaltender’s right side for his fourth goal of the season.
The Spartans narrowly escaped the second period with the 2-1 lead, but not before coming to within an ice shaving of surrendering the lead. With 40 seconds left, and with Ohio State on the power play, Buckeye R.J. Umberger corralled the loose puck to Miller’s left and sent a shot up high on the junior goalie. Miller surrendered the rebound and Umberger chipped the puck past Miller and off of defensemen Liles and Brad Fast, who both occupied the goal mouth. Somehow, the puck came back to Umberger, who again atempted to chip the puck over Miller and into the net.
Fast fell into the goal while Miller reached to the goal line with his glove. Umberger and the Buckeyes raised their arms, but the goal light never went off and referee Steve McInchak ruled it no goal. Television replays were inconclusive.
“If it had gone in, it would have been a different ballgame,” Ohio State head coach John Markell said.
Ironically, when the two coaches met at center ice after the game, their visible disagreement did not center on the legitimacy of the non-goal, but on the resulting faceoff that came outside the zone.
Ohio State defensemen rushed in to celebrate with Umberger and warranted the faceoff outside the zone, according to Mason. “Their defensemen needed to stay on the blueline, then the play would not have come outside the zone,” he said. The outside faceoff cost the Buckeyes an opportunity to set up a play in the waning seconds of their power play, leaving Markell flustered.
“Our defensemen came in because they thought it was a goal,” Markell said.
The Spartans put Ohio State away for good when Jim Slater completed a pretty three-on-one by taking a cross-crease feed from Duncan Keith and sliding the puck past Betz’s left skate for the back-breaking two-goal lead at the 7:23 mark of the third period.
Liles, who assisted on two goals and was the game’s number one star, was lauded by both coach and teammates for his defensive prowess. “He played extremely well defensively and stopped two breakaways,” Mason said. “He was phenomenal.”
Goodenow agreed and divulged the secret to Liles’ secret two-way success. “He’s underrated defensively,” Goodenow said. “He’s always in the right place at the right time. He’s able to do what he does because he’s got a lot of speed — he playsreal deep but he’s always the first guy back.”
No. 14 Ohio State (14-9-2, 9-6-2) and No. 5 Michigan State (18-5-3, 13-4-2 CCHA) play the second of four consecutive games at 7:05 p.m. Saturday, in Munn Arena.