DETROIT — Adam Hall and Brad Fast each netted a goal and Ryan Miller stopped 23 pucks as Michigan State beat Northern Michigan 2-1 in the second CCHA Super Six Semifinal game.
There were no surprises in the contest, except perhaps for how hard NMU goaltender Craig Kowalski had to work. Kowalski kept the game close, turning aside 39 of the 40 shots he faced.
“We knew this was going to be a tough game,” said MSU head coach Ron Mason. “It’s hard to beat anybody three consecutive times, and that’s what we’ve done with Northern.
“I think they played with a lot more of a sense of urgency, early in the game especially, and obviously a little tentative. They’re a tough team to play against. They’re a strong team physically, and they play very, very well defensively, and tonight Kowalski played great.”
“It was a hard-fought game,” said NMU head coach Rick Comley. “Scoring, obviously, was going to be a key. When we got that goal to tie it, I thought we really got good jump, got going, and had really good opportunities.”
Hall opened the scoring for the Spartans at 3:56 in the first, fed by Jim Slater and Brock Radunske. Along the boards near the right NMU circle, Radunske dropped the puck back to Slater, behind the Wildcat net. Slater centered it to Hall, whose initial shot was stopped by Kowalski. The rebound flew up into the air, and Hall stretched himself out to backhand the puck into the net on the left side.
Michigan State led 1-0 after one.
Alex Sawruk evened it up for Northern Michigan at 3:08 in the second, the end result of a smart play by Sean Owens in the NMU end. Owens stole the puck near the Wildcat blue line and passed ahead to Dave Bonk, who was already flying up through the neutral zone on the left wing. Once in the Michigan State end, Bonk passed from the left faceoff circle to Sawruk on the right wing, and Sawruk blasted it past Ryan Miller clean on the short side.
Fast’s game-winner came at 16:29 in the second, fed by Ash Goldie. After taking the pass from Goldie, Fast hesitated at the top of the right circle before firing the puck on net. Kowalski made a grab for the puck, but the shot just squeaked in between Kowalski’s outstretched hand and the crossbar.
In spite of being significantly outshot each period, the Wildcats made Miller work for a living, especially when Kowalski was pulled in favor of the extra skater with 53 seconds remaining in regulation. The closest NMU came to evening things up was near the final buzzer, when Chad Theuer gave it everything he got, sending the puck dead-on to Miller, who preserved the win with a save that looked routine but preserved the win.
“We got two goals, and that was enough to win,” said Mason. “We didn’t play 60 minutes of hockey, there’s no question about that. That could have been because they did a nice job of forechecking us and things like that.
“The bottom line is we did what we needed to do to win the game, and we’re where we wanted to be tomorrow.”
Said Comley, “I thought we really, really played hard. You give your best effort, you deal with it, and you move on, and I thought our kids gave a very, very good effort.”
The Spartans finished the night 0-for-5 on the power play; NMU went 0-for-1.
Now the Wildcats (26-12-2), a bubble team, wait until Sunday to find out if they’ll be invited to the NCAA tournament.
Michigan State (27-7-5) faces Michigan in the Sunday afternoon CCHA championship game at Joe Louis Arena. The puck drops at 3 p.m. ET.