DETROIT — Consolation. It was something that both Michigan State and Lake Superior found after the Spartans’ 7-6 overtime win for third place in the CCHA tournament.
The victory for MSU was a much-needed rebound effort after being severely outplayed in a 5-2 semifinal loss to Michigan. Perhaps more importantly, the Spartans needed to win this game not only to gain an NCAA spot but also to avoid potentially stumbling into the national tournament with a pair of losses.
“It’s a win that we probably needed to get or our season would have been over,” said MSU coach Rick Comley. “I told the guys that they wouldn’t have been any happier if they won 2-1. This (part of the) season is over and a new season starts next weekend and that’s all we have to think about.”
Although the Lakers came out on the losing side, they can take solace in a heroic comeback effort in which they scored two extra-attacker goals in the last 1:07 to force overtime.
“It’s a tribute to our leadership from our seniors and our captain Barnabas Birkeland who give us that ‘never say die’ attitude,” said LSSU coach Jim Roque.
“All year long we’ve battled back from adversity. And when we’ve been challenged guys have laid it all out on the line. Tonight was no different,” said Birkeland. “But it breaks my heart that the guys did everything we ever asked of them, we came back from two goals down late, and we just couldn’t get it done.”
3:37 into the extra frame with the Spartans on a rare power play, Daniel Vukovic rocketed a shot on net that caromed off of goaltender Jeff Jakaitis’ pads right onto Tyler Howells’ stick. Howells collected the puck and deposited it into a near-empty net for the win.
“I saw Dan wind up and I knew that if it didn’t go into the net that there was going to be a big rebound. I went over to the slot and it ended up right on my stick. All I had to do was push it in and you can’t ask for a better scenario,” said Howells.
Although Lake Superior was able to force overtime, the Lakers never led in the game despite scoring six goals. The comeback was even more impressive considering they faced three different two-goal deficits and dug themselves an early 3-0 hole.
“We weren’t mentally sharp, but I was impressed with our effort. Our guys fought and battled,” said LSSU coach Jim Roque. “We could have quit at any time in that game, but our guys never did. We wanted to put a good show on for our fans that came down this weekend and gave us great support.”
Several impressive individual efforts really shaped a game that was played in a wide-open fashion.
Lake Superior freshman forward Nathan Perkovich scored a hat trick to pace his team. The 6-foot-5, 197-pounder from Canton, Mich., displayed a rare mix of power and skill in bringing LSSU back from the dead on more than one occasion.
“He’s got good hands and a good stick, and he gets to pucks that maybe other guys can’t get to. Nathan has a nose for the net, and we need that. We didn’t score a lot of goals this season, so we’re hoping that he can build on that and have a great season as a sophomore,” said Roque.
None of his tallies was more critical than a power-play goal with just over a minute remaining. With the Lakers trailing by two, Roque pulled his goaltender to gain a two-man advantage and Perkovich imposed his will, battling through the Spartan defense to collect a loose puck and slide it into an empty net to give his team life at 6-5.
Vukovic, a defensive-minded defenseman, nearly matched Perkovich’s hat trick with one of his own, netting a pair of goals and providing the primary assist on the game-winner.
“Both of the goals were set up by nice passes. The first was a pass by Zak McClellan for an easy play in the slot. The second was a nice pass from Howells that I was able to one-time, and luckily it hit the post and went in instead of going out,” said Vukovic.
Vukovic wasn’t the only defenseman who caught the scoring bug. Laker sophomore Steven Olesky netted the first two goals of his career and added an assist. Prior to the scoring outburst, Olesky only had six points in 37 games for LSSU.
Speaking of timely scoring, MSU senior captain Chris Lawrence was an impressive playmaker when his Spartans needed it most. Coming into the game, Lawrence only had five points on the season, but he set up a pair of goals in the first period to give his team an early 2-0 lead.
The final buzzer closed another chapter of Laker hockey, but the Spartans will almost certainly go on to play in the NCAA tournament. Michigan State and its fans eagerly await the tournament Selection Show, which will air at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday afternoon, to find out if they receive an invitation.