EAST LANSING, Mich. — No. 14 Michigan State has been having a little trouble with teams from the CHA in recent years, so Spartan head coach Rick Comley was a little apprehensive with Wayne State coming to East Lansing for a two-game series Thursday and Friday night. He warned his team that losses against teams like the Warriors are wild cards when it comes to the rankings at the end of the year for the NCAA tournament.
Maybe he shouldn’t have used the word ‘losses.’
Comley’s Spartans fell to the Warriors in overtime, 3-2, on what can be considered a ‘garbage’ goal off a scramble in front of the net by junior forward John Grubb.
The Spartans are now 1-3 against teams from the CHA, having split with Niagara last November and losing this season in the Ice Breaker Tournament to Findlay.
Even more frustrating for the Spartans is that they outplayed the Warriors, having the puck in the Warrior defensive zone so often there were piles of snow in between the face-off circles in the middle of periods.
MSU outshot Wayne State, 41-22.
But somehow, the Warriors held up under the pressure, weathered the storm, and managed to capitalize on one of their few chances (the best the Warriors had in the extra period) to score with 47 ticks left on the clock.
“[Goalie Marc] Carlson played unbelievable tonight,” Warrior Head Coach Bill Wilkinson said. “The guys in front of him played hard as well; blocked a lot of shots. We were ecstatic to say ‘hey, it’s two-two after two’.”
The Spartans came out ready to play, immediately dominating the game, and putting the puck past senior goaltender Marc Carlson just over two minutes into the game, when sophomore forward Colton Fretter’s shot was oddly deflected into the far corner of the net.
Just 56 seconds later, the Warriors answered when freshman forward Jason Baclig made a nice move past a Spartan defender to go in all alone against netminder Dominic Vicari (19 saves) to tie the game.
Sixteen seconds after that, Warrior freshman forward Nate Higgins put his team ahead, scoring his third goal in as many games.
Then Carlson started to put on a show, keeping the puck out of the net for the next period and a half, only surrendering a power play goal to Spartan junior assistant captain Adam Nightingale with a little over five minutes left in the second. Carlson would, by the evening’s conclusion, make 39 saves.
That was how many Vicari had in Oxford last Friday night against Miami.
Coincidence? Maybe not.
Let’s focus on Carlson for a moment. Carlson is a fifth-year senior, after sitting out a year to undergo chemotherapy in 2001-02 in a battle with cancer. He’s been playing for the Warriors, along with fifth-year senior captain defenseman Nick Stodgell, since the inception of their program.
Carlson has only amassed twelve wins in that span, and three of them are against teams that no longer exist (Iona and Fairfield). He only played seven periods of hockey last year behind Warrior go-to goaltender David Guerrera, and didn’t record a win.
In fact, Carlson hadn’t managed to back-stop a win since the 2000-01 season.
Think he’s got something to prove? Maybe.
“They hit three pipes,” Wilkinson said. “It could have been a different story. We played Findlay, 4-1 (the Warriors lost), they hit three pipes, and all of them went in, so you never know. [MSU's] a great team, and we were fortunate to beat them.
“It gives so much credibility to your team when you beat a team like Rick Comley and the Spartans.”
After Carlson let in the Spartan power play goal (only MSU’s second in 21 attempts), he became a brick wall, letting nothing by and single-handedly keeping the game tied.
“Their goaltender played outstanding,” Comley said. “We couldn’t put it in when we had the chances and they did.
“It wasn’t because of lack of trying or lack of working. It’s a bad loss.”
The teams meet again Friday night.