EAST LANSING, Mich. — Freshman forward Tim Crowder scored on a breakaway 2:30 into overtime, propelling #8 Michigan State past #14 Northern Michigan in a thrilling intrastate rivalry Friday.
The new NCAA rules emphasis on hitting from behind can change the complexion of a game, and even a series, within the blink of an eye. With the second period coming to a close and Northern Michigan cruising, up 3-1, Pat Bateman was whistled for a major penalty for hitting from behind and a game disqualification, giving the Spartans a second life and 4:12 of carry-over power play in the third period.
Less than a minute into the final frame, Jim McKenzie cashed in on the major, slamming home a Drew Miller pass from behind the net to pull the Spartans within a goal.
“[W]ithout that five-minute penalty, we don’t get back in the game,” said head coach Rick Comley. “But you’ve got to take advantage of an opportunity and we did. Once you get one, you never know what happens”
Despite a lengthy period of sustained possession by Northern following the goal, MSU capitalized on its momentum, scoring two goals less than a minute apart to take the lead at the 13:01 mark of the third.
Assistant captain Corey Potter completed the Spartan comeback with a slapshot from the point. The puck wiggled threw, finding the top left corner to give Michigan State a 4-3 lead late in the third.
“We were very flat for two periods. And that’s where you need your better players to generate offense for you,” said Comley.
Much to NMU’s credit, the Wildcats did not deflate after losing the lead.
“I love that characteristic of our team,” said head coach Walt Kyle. “That’s a big part of what we try to be. It wasn’t a matter of being out of the hockey game at all. At that point we had to keep pressing and I thought we did that.”
Nathan Oystrick tied the game with less than 5 minutes left to play on a terrific individual effort. He slid around Potter and slipped a shot underneath an outstretched Dominic Vicari, forcing overtime.
The Spartans came into the overtime period on fire, controlling play for the first minute of the extra session while generating the sole quality chance. NMU finally broke out of the zone, but Ethan Graham was able to split the defense with a long pass up to Crowder for the game-winner.
“I’ve always been awful in breakaways. I just saw that he went down, so I shot top glove. For some reason, since I’ve been here, I’ve been finishing breakaways,” said Crowder.
The first frame was highlighted by special teams play with both teams scoring on the man advantage. Captain Drew Miller struck first for the Spartans, knocking home a loose rebound from just outside the right side of the crease. Northern goaltender Bill Zaniboni kicked at the puck, but left it right on the doorstep for Miller.
Miller’s goal was reviewed by video replay officials a new feature in CCHA play this season but he was deemed to be outside of the crease and the goal stood.
Rob Lehtinen found an equalizer shortly after the officials sorted out the situation. Mike Santorelli bore down on goal and flipped a weak shot on net. MSU assistant captain Jared Nightingale was able to knock the puck down, but could not clear it, giving Lehtinen an easy rebound goal.
Northern put the Spartans in a deep hole in the second period, scoring a pair of unanswered goals to jump out to a 3-1 lead. The Cats struck again on the power play with Mike Santorelli batting home a rebound in the low slot. Vicari knocked down a pedestrian shot, but Santorelli jumped all over the rebound to give Northern the lead.
Darin Olver ripped a wrist shot over Vicari’s blocked to put the Wildcats up by two, nearly finishing the Spartans as the period wound to a close.
Zaniboni struggled after being named CCHA Player of the Month this week. Before allowing five goals tonight, he had only surrendered four goals in five games. The usually solid sophomore struggled playing the puck behind the net and only managed 17 saves on 22 shots.
The same could be said for MSU’s Vicari as the junior netminder stopped only 18 of 22 shots.
“Goaltending, it’s one of those hard games where they aren’t getting lots of shots, but there are tips and bounces and those are hard games for goalies to play,” said Comley.
Bateman will be lost for tomorrow’s game after receiving a disqualification while the Spartans will welcome freshman Justin Abdelkader back to the ice after he served a game disqualification tonight.
Both teams will look to continue the hard fought hockey tomorrow night at 7 p.m. in Munn Arena.