EAST LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan State Spartans had a week off while the Northern Michigan Wildcats fought their way through three games against Ohio State to earn their place at Munn Ice Arena for round two of the CCHA Playoffs.
Earlier this season, in October, the Spartans swept the Wildcats at home. The Wildcats young roster gained experience and built their team, and when the Spartans travelled to Marquette in February, it was Northerns turn to do the sweeping. The home ice advantage showed its value once again as the Spartans beat the Wildcats 5-1.
They came out to play, Wildcat coach Walt Kyle said. In my perspective, they didnt play to their capability in Marquette. Tonight they stepped it up and I dont know who wouldnt agree.
Theyre a really good team, obviously, and theyre going to be tough with a lot of playing experience. We learned a good lesson tonight and we know what it takes to successful in playoff hockey.
Its critical to have experience., Spartan coach Rick Comley said. I think every goal is by juniors and seniors. Eventually the other guys are going to chip in We have good players who have tested through playoff hockey and tough games.
The game took off when Northerns Derek May took an interference penalty at 4:12. At 4:32 the Wildcats took control of the puck on their penalty kill. Nick Sirota carried the puck along the boards and sent it across the ice to Mark Olver. Olver carried it up towards the net and tucked it past Spartan goalie Jeff Lergs left leg as he skated by the left post.
The penalty hadnt served its purpose yet. At 5:08 the Spartans scored a power play goal from Michael Ratchuk, Tim Crowder and Jeff Lerg, who faked out Wildcat goalie Brian Stewart, came behind the net and wrapped in around the right post. Stewarts stick was inches away.
The second period was a battle for possession. After Northerns Alan Dorich took a contact to the head-elbowing call at 16:22, the Spartans owned the puck. Seven seconds set up a beautiful display of passing as Jeff Petry sent the puck from the blue line to Tim Kennedy who waiting at the right faceoff circle. Kennedy passed the puck across the ice to Justin Abdelkader off the center of the left faceoff circle, and fired it left of Stewart in one swift motion.
The Spartans increased their lead 3-1 early in the third period. The goal, at 5:32, came from Dustin Gazley and Nick Sucharski who shot the puck from a scrabble outside of the faceoff circle and left of Stewarts shoulder.
Stewarts left side proved to be the lucky spot of the night and at 11:04 the Spartans used it to put them ahead 4-1 with their third power play goal of the night. It went to Crowder, assists going to Ratchuk and Jeff Dunne.
Their power play certainly bombed us and we took a lot of penalities because we didnt play good one on one in our end, Kyle said. So we certainly have to do a better job with that and we have to do a better job killing penalties and taking power plays or we cant expect to have success.
The Spartans went 5-1 at 13:44. The puck hit the post and went off Stewarts back into the goal. The goal went to Kennedy, Petry and Lerg and resulted in a goal change for Northern.
Stewart was fine. He made some huge saves, Kyle said. There was nothing he could do on some of them. I didnt pull him because he was poor. I pulled him because there were seven minutes left and the game was out of hand and it was a chance to give Derek Janzen some minutes.
Its about time weve had a really good third period. We have a tendency to sit back on those, Comley said. We trust Jeff and tonight we were confident in him and built off it.
In Marquette we couldnt get a puck through. They blocked everything. And tonight We obviously watched a lot of video. We got to puck to spots weve identified as spots we can get the puck to the net on. Tonight we were able to.
The Spartans and Wildcats will face off tomorrow at 7:05. The game will determine if the Spartans will go to the CCHA Championships for the 17th year in a row, or if a game three on Sunday is necessary.
Well watch the tapes and our approach coming in was to win in three games, not two, and we have to win tomorrow night to continue our season. Well do our best tomorrow and see where we go.