EAST LANSING, Mich. — Bill Thomas scored with 28 seconds left in overtime to complete Nebraska-Omaha’s sweep of No. 6 Michigan State on Saturday evening.
The Mavericks found a burst of energy when both teams seemed to be winding down to settle for a tie. Scott Parse battled on the forecheck near the end boards and found a streaking Thomas in front for the game-winner.
When asked about completing the sweep as opposed to escaping with a hard-fought tie, Mavericks head coach Mike Kemp said, “Being the greedy guy that I am, I’m much happier with what we got.”
Greed aside, Kemp and the Mavericks were happy with the play of their leaders in driving the team to its first ever sweep of the Spartans at Munn and first league road sweep in 21 series.
“It’s just in [their] nature,” said Kemp. “Marshall and Parse are a couple of Michigan guys, and it’s one of those things where they have the extra jump. Those guys are competitors, and they are really, really competitive and our competitors got the bounce when we needed it.”
The effort helped to drag Parse out of the doghouse after he hauled down Chris Mueller to put the Spartans on the power play for the final two minutes of regulation.
“I thought it was a pretty good defensive play,” said Kemp. “He didn’t take that penalty out of frustration; he took it out of making a play.”
Both teams’ penalty-kill units came up huge with the score deadlocked in the final minutes of the game. The Spartans managed to escape a Maverick power play thanks to the strong play from freshman goaltender Jeff Lerg.
“He made some great saves,” said Michigan State head coach Rick Comley. “He really played well, that’s for sure.”
With just 2:10 left in the game, Nebraska-Omaha returned serve on the penalty kill, erasing a Michigan State man advantage to force overtime.
For the second time in as many nights, Michigan State jumped out to a 1-0 lead. Chris Mueller put the Spartans on the board with a shorthanded goal at the 3:14 mark of the first period. Mueller collected a Drew Miller pass, raced down the right side of the ice, and fired a wrist shot over Barrett’s glove and into the top right corner.
“Mueller played well after missing the time,” said Comley. “He got one nice goal and then nearly had one at the end.”
The Mavericks, however, came right back with their own shorthanded tally. Just 53 seconds into the second, Spartan Tyler Howells fanned on a pass on the point, sending Dan Charleston in on a breakaway. The freshman also buried his chance high to the glove side.
Five minutes later, Charleston put the Mavs ahead by a 2-1 score with a power-play goal. Lerg kicked a rebound to Scott Parse, who tucked a nifty pass through his legs to Charleston for an easy tap-in.
“He has been one of our featured penalty killers all season because he plays with such grit and determination,” said Kemp. “He’s a little guy who is not afraid to get up and make things happen. He made no mistake about it once he got the chance with the shot.”
The Spartans found an answer with just 15.6 seconds left in the second period as Bryan Lerg made a terrific play on the forecheck to find Jim McKenzie for the equalizer.
“I saw Lerg come at the defenseman behind the net with a lot of speed, so I anticipated that he was going to cut him off and get control of the puck,” said McKenzie. “He made a great heads-up pass and I got lucky that it went in.”
“We decided to go after them in the third period, and not give their defense a chance to set up behind the net.”
The Spartans were forced to employ an aggressive forecheck to cause turnovers in order to create offense. Although it wasn’t pretty, the defensive effort by the Mavericks in their own zone was most impressive.
“This is the best our team has played defensively [in more than a month] because we were doing the little things,” said Kemp.
“Barrett did a good job of making the stops when he had to. His two wins have both come on Saturday night I came in and called him ‘Mr. Saturday Night’”
Putting the win into perspective, Kemp said, “Getting four points here makes up for getting swept at home [against Miami]. If we can make up for the Bowling Green sweep next week, we’re right back in the hunt.”
After this statement weekend, Nebraska-Omaha looks to keep the momentum rolling against a dangerous Alaska-Fairbanks team. Michigan State will only have a day to rebound before it travels to Ohio State, a potential sleeping giant, on Tuesday.