DAYTON, Ohio — Forty years ago, as Ed “Lefty” McFadden helped bring the sport of hockey to Dayton, Ohio, in the form of the Dayton Gems of the International Hockey League, the Michigan State Spartans were in the process of winning their first-ever national championship. On Saturday afternoon, at the Lefty McFadden Invitational on the campus of Wright State University, the Spartans (1-0-0) began their 2005-2006 campaign by going 3-for-11 on the power play en route to a 5-1 win over the Wayne State Warriors.
“We got better as the game went on,” said a pleased Michigan State head coach Rick Comley. “We think we’re a better team than a year ago. We’ve got three lines that are very well balanced, and we have one freshman line that we like a lot. With three of our top six defensemen hurt, we didn’t really know how they would handle the pressure.”
All in all, the Spartans faced little pressure in their season opener, as they outshot Wayne State 34-16. Nevertheless, midway through the second period, the two teams were deadlocked at 1-1. Then came the turning point.
After a series of end-to-end rushes by both teams, Warrior junior defenseman Taylor Donohoe was assessed a five-minute major for checking from behind. Eventually, the Wayne State penalty killers became fatigued, and a mix-up behind their net left senior goaltender Matt Kelly out of position. Waiting all alone between the hash marks was MSU captain Drew Miller, who fired the puck past a sprawling Kelly for the eventual game winner.
“Bryan Lerg got the puck to the net,” said Miller. “He worked really hard to get it and to put it in front. The goalie was out of position, and I just found myself at the right spot at the right time to get the open-net goal. You take those easy ones when you get them.”
The Spartans struck again with only half a second left in the period, again on the power play. With a faceoff in the offensive zone with 2.9 seconds remaining, senior center David Booth won the draw and pulled it back to sophomore Jim McKenzie, an Ottawa Senators draft choice in 2004, who slapped a one-timer past Kelly.
The Warriors (0-1-0) never recovered, and third-period goals by Spartan assistant captain Colton Fretter and Lerg ran the score to 5-1.
Wayne State took a 1-0 lead a mere nine seconds into the first period when junior left winger Jason Baclig sneaked into the slot and fired a one-timer under MSU netminder Dominic Vicari’s glove to give the Warriors the early lead.
However, Michigan State capitalized on a flurry of Warrior penalties, scoring the first of their three power-play tallies midway through the first to even the score at 1-1. Freshman Justin Abdelkader, a second-round draft pick of the Detroit Red Wings in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, gathered a loose rebound and beat Kelly, who was selected to the College Hockey America All-League Second Team last season.
But it was Miller’s tap-in goal that would put the Spartans ahead for good.
The Warriors look to rebound tomorrow afternoon, when they face the hosts of the Invitational, the Miami RedHawks. Meanwhile, in the marquee match-up of the weekend, the Spartans will take on last season’s national championship runner-up, North Dakota.
“North Dakota has great talent and great speed,” said Comley. “I hope it’ll be a good match-up and an exciting game. This whole first month is a great test for us.”