EAST LANSING, Mich. — A Bryan Lerg hat trick snapped Michigan State’s longest winless streak in 25 years as the Spartans skated past Bowling Green by a 3-0 on Friday night.
Lerg’s finishing touch was exactly what the Spartans were missing over the last 8 games (0-5-3), 4 of which were one-goal games or ties.
“It was a very tight game again,” said Michigan State coach Rick Comley. “We’ve had a lot of guys working hard, but productively you need someone to get it done. [M]any times this year have we had a lead and then can’t get the next goal, and then their team does. I bet it’s happened four or five times.”
With the Spartans clinging to a tenuous 1-0 lead and just 10 minutes remaining on the clock, Lerg stole a puck at the blue line and broke in on goaltender Jon Horrell shorthanded. He was hauled down from behind, and Referee Kevin Hall immediately pointed to center ice, giving way to the most exciting play in sports a penalty shot.
“You think about this laying in bed the night before the game,” said Lerg. “I saw him come out pretty far, and when I saw him come out almost to the hash marks, I had to deke him.”
Lerg raced in on Horrell, deked him out of his pads, and roofed a backhand that sent the water bottle high into the air for a 2-0 lead.
Before Lerg’s penalty shot goal, Bobby Reynolds’ score on February, 17 1989, was the last successful attempt by a Spartan despite a handful of opportunities by current NHL-ers Jim Slater, Jon-Michael Liles, and Adam Hall.
After giving Michigan State a little breathing room, Lerg kept finding the puck in good spots and banged home an insurance goal to make it 3-0. He even had several chances for a fourth or fifth with a Bowling Green empty net in the final minute.
Lerg leads the Spartans with 20 points, but had only scored two goals coming into tonight’s game.
“He led the U.S. Program in scoring, so he’s always scored goals,” Comley said. “He’s had a really good year but hasn’t scored many [goals].”
Lerg’s heroic performance broke open what was otherwise a very tight game. The score remained 1-0 more than halfway through the third period, and after Bowling Green dominated the second in puck possession, either team could have pulled away.
“It was the kind of game that was perfect in terms of giving us an opportunity in the third period, and we just weren’t able to get as many chances in the third period. We made adjustments to get more pressure we just weren’t able to do it,” said Bowling Green coach Scott Paluch.
“We don’t want bounces, though, we want goals.”
And the Falcons did not get goals from the line upon which they depend so heavily. Bowling Green’s trio of Alex Foster, Jonathan Matsumoto, and Mike Falk was kept in check, largely due to the play of MSU’s defensive pairing of Corey Potter and Ethan Graham.
Dominic Vicari registered the shutout in net for Michigan State. The junior goalkeeper already has 3 on the young season and 15 for his career. Vicari started out the season hot, but faded during the Spartans’ streak, giving way to a rotation with freshman Jeff Lerg. The incumbent, however, has responded well as of late, holding Minnesota to two goals in a tie and keeping a clean sheet tonight.
“He’s had one of those years where he has had a couple really good games,” said Comley. “What you want out of him is a consistent level of play. The last two periods against Minnesota and the game here tonight is as good as you want.”
Both teams will travel to Bowling Green tomorrow for the second and final game of this home-and-home series.