EAST LANSING, Mich. — In the second game of the Ice Breaker Invitational, the Findlay Oilers clashed with the host Michigan State Spartans. They were underdogs, to say the least — picked to finish low in the preseason polls in a conference fighting for respect — in a tournament with three established teams, all ranked nationally.
The Oilers’ mentality was, “So what?”
In a surprising turn of events, the Oilers played spoiler to the Spartans’ hope of reaching the championship game, dominating the third period and coming back from two two-goal deficits to defeat the Spartans, 4-3, at Munn Arena.
The first period belonged to the Spartans, who took a two-goal lead into the locker room courtesy of a sharp-angle shot for a goal by Mike Lalonde and a spectacular individual effort from captain Jim Slater.
The Oilers drew first blood in the second, a little over two minutes in on a deflection in front of Spartan netminder Dominic Vicari, but the Spartans’ Chris Lawrence scored his first collegiate goal to answer, putting the Spartans on top by two late in the period.
There were, of course, plenty of missed opportunities, including three or four clangs as the puck bounced off a post and out of the crease, especially one that came off both posts and still stayed out.
In the third period, however, the Oilers came out with a mission. Just 1:27 in, Mike Batovanja found the back of the net, top-shelf, to bring the Oilers within one. Then at 10:25, with Lalonde in the penalty box for cross-checking, Andrew Radzak buried the puck behind Vicari again from the right point.
A minute and twenty-eight seconds later, Radzak set up teammate Kris Wiebe to put the Oilers on top for the first time, on another deflection, this one off Spartan defender Jared Nightengale’s glove.
It would be all that was necessary.
Oiler netminder Jon Horrell stood on his head in the remaining minutes, even after the Spartans pulled the goalie with just over a minute left in the game.
“I’ve said it all along,” Oilers head coach Pat Ford affirmed, “we had to establish our style of play. I kept telling the guys, ‘Third period’s ours.’ They expended a lot of energy in dominating us [in the first two periods], and we were able to get in a little bit of a rhythm.”
“Pat’s kids had to work hard, and [they] hung around, and hung around, then got back in the game with the second goal,” Michigan State head coach Rick Comley said. “They worked hard, they were pesky, caused some turnovers, and then they just collapsed around their net; and their goaltender, I thought, played pretty darn well.
“You have to work hard, you have to compete hard, to win. I don’t care who you are and who you’re playing, whether you’re an underdog, whether you’re a favorite. I thought they had a lot more players who competed very well.”
The Spartans will play Minnesota-Duluth Saturday in the consolation game at 4 p.m., while the Oilers will face Boston College in the championship at 8.