EAST LANSING, Mich. — Colton Fretter put the exclamation point on a terrific see-saw battle of a playoff game in Munn Arena on Saturday night. The game-winner, scored at 7:45 of extra time, gave Michigan State a 5-4 victory and a berth in the CCHA Super Six.
With MSU buzzing on the power play, the Spartans’ MVP so far this year controlled the puck in the low slot and flipped a tough angle backhand over Brandon Crawford-West’s shoulder and into the back of the net.
“We knew Crawford-West plays the first shot, so I faked a shot and brought it over to my backhand,” said Fretter. “I had so much time I don’t even remember it. I just knew I was one-on-one with the goalie and I found the back of the net.”
“I saw [Jim] McKenzie out front and tried to slide it to him, but he got hammered from behind,” said Spartan captain Jim Slater. “Luckily for that, it went right over to Fretter and he just walked him, and he had more patience than Crawford-West. He put it upstairs and the celebration started.”
Fretter’s overtime tally was not the first time in the game that he brought Munn to its feet. The scrappy junior also struck for the game-tying goal on a heroic individual effort. He raced down the left side of the ice, gained speed around the corner to beat his man, and somehow found a way to stuff the puck through Crawford-West while being thrown into the side of the net to force the extra time.
“We’ve had to find leaders, find people who are going to get it done,” said State coach Rick Comley. “Instead of automatically passing the torch, we’ve had to find people to carry the torch and I think that’s what we see evolving right now.”
Aside from Comley’s compliments, the goal was maybe the best birthday present the newly-minted 23-year-old Fretter could ask for.
Ryan Jones’ rebound goal to put Miami up by two goals with less than eight minutes left to play seemed to guarantee the RedHawks a decisive game on Sunday, but the Spartans battled back to score two goals within 90 seconds to force overtime.
“They got that fourth goal with seven and a half to go and it’s kind of a killer,” said Slater. “I bet fans were saying it was time to go, but that third one was huge, and then Fretter’s drive to the net was big for us.”
MSU had an opportunity to deflate after Jones’ back-breaking goal, but instead dug deep to find an answer just 28 seconds later on the stick of Tommy Goebel. With a loose puck underneath Brandon Crawford-West, Goebel was able to wrestle the puck across the goal line to give the Spartans new life.
“The big thing is that we’re coming back when we’re down. A good team needs to do that and hopefully we’ll be able to carry on to the Joe and we’ll be able to make a run for it,” said Fretter.
After coming out sluggish, it was Miami who struck first. The RedHawks’ second power play unit notched their second goal in as many nights, capitalizing on a Chad Hontvet penalty in the offensive zone. The goal was a case of brotherly love as Nathan Davis worked the puck over to his big brother Matt Davis for a blast from the center point. Matt’s shot found its way through traffic and Vicari’s pads to give Miami the early lead.
After the score Miami had sustained pressure deep in the Spartan zone, especially while holding the man advantage, but Vicari rebounded to make several big saves, keeping the score 1-0 after the first.
Mitch Ganzak added to the Miami lead with his first collegiate goal, racing in from his post on the blue line to pounce on a loose puck in the low slot. The defenseman had 21 assists in his freshman campaign but needed his second playoff game to record a goal.
Saddled with a 2-0 deficit, Bryan Lerg attempted to stem the tide for Michigan State. The freshman forward used a nifty hesitation move to gain the corner on a Miami defenseman before powering through the office and one-handing the puck past a sprawling Crawford-West.
Just after MSU might have gained any momentum, Vicari had trouble controlling a rebound and left a bouncing puck in the middle of the slot. Lansing native Marty Guerin jumped all over a loose puck in the middle of the slot to give Miami another two-goal lead over his hometown Spartans.
Slater brought Michigan State within one with just 14 seconds left in the second period on a move that was eerily similar to Lerg’s earlier score. He sped his way around a RedHawk defenseman on the corner and then powered across the goalmouth before stuffing the puck between Crawford-West’s pads.
Said Slater, “We got three goals on the same play. I think it might have honestly been the same guy three times. We’ve got a lot of speed on this team; Lerg, Fretter, and I have the same body type and once we get our bodies in front it’s hard to knock us off the puck.”
With the momentum clearly swung in MSU’s favor headed into the final frame, the Spartans hoped to capitalize on Slater’s late heroics to bring them all the way back.
A Ryan Jones rebound goal all but deflated an otherwise strong effort to find the equalizer, giving the RedHawks a two-goal lead with less than eight minutes left in regulation.
In overtime with Miami dominating in the offensive zone, Ash Goldie, caught without a stick, picked up the puck and pulled his best Curt Schilling, winding up and tossing the puck out to center ice. The play, while creative, put Miami on the power play with momentum on its side in overtime.
With the RedHawks buzzing on the ensuing man advantage, Dominic Vicari made a highlight-reel save to keep the Spartans alive.
“What a rubber-band leg,” said Slater. “It was probably the best save of the year, maybe out of anyone when you think of the things that were on the line.”
“I don’t think enough can be said about that save,” said Ethan Graham. “I was astonished when I saw the puck go over to the corner, and I was on the ice in front of the net.”
Jones’ role took a turn for the worse when he was whistled for the penalty in overtime that led to Fretter’s game-winner.
Miami finished a challenging, injury-plagued season with a 15-18-5 record.
Michigan State will be watching Sunday’s decisive games closely as the Spartans await an opponent for their matchup on St. Patrick’s Day in the Super Six.