EAST LANSING, Mich. — When things aren’t going your way, it’s tough to overcome bad breaks. Just ask the Michigan State Spartans.
But tonight, just one season removed from a national championship, they may have found something to build on as they scored two goals in 86 seconds to overcome a 1-0 deficit and notch their first CCHA win since October 31. Most of the breaks went the Spartans’ way in the 2-1 win and after an 11-game winless streak, they have now won two of their last three games.
With the win, Michigan State improves to 6-12-3 overall and 3-8-2-2 in conference action. Meanwhile, No. 18 Alaska drops to 9-6-4 on the season, including 7-5-3-2 in CCHA play.
“That’s the first game probably we’ve had things bounce for us a little bit,” Michigan State coach Rick Comley said. “Maybe that will be a good sign. We’re offensively challenged, obviously. Scoring is not going to be easy.”
Up 1-0, Alaska withstood a Michigan State power-play rush late in the third period, including a negative video review of a shot by Spartans freshman center Ben Warda with 3:45 remaining in the game. But less than 10 seconds later, the Spartans were able to get the game-tying tally on the power play from freshman center Dalton Leveille as the puck squirted out of a scrum in front of the net and crossed the end line. Sophomore wing Dustin Gazely got the lone assist.
The game winner came within 90 seconds, when from behind the net Gazely scored by putting the puck off an Alaska defenseman. Leveille got the assist on the game winner, reversing their roles on the game-tying goal.
“I thought we had better energy in the third,” said Comley. “They’re a good team. They’re strong, and they put the pucks on the net well. ”
For the Nanooks, this loss hurt badly. As they sit third in the CCHA standings, they need to win games like this if they hope to host a CCHA playoff series in Fairbanks.
“We just relaxed,” said Alaska Coach Dallas Ferguson. “We basically kill the penalty off, and then we have four guys standing in front of our net. And they bang one in. There should be no sticks available to touch that puck. I got four guys just watching the puck. That can’t happen at this level.”
The Nanooks dominated this game for the first two periods, outshooting the Spartans 24-12 in the first 40 minutes. This made the late third period collapse all the more frustrating.
“It’s a 60-minute game,” Ferguson said. “We have to come to the rink with a little bit more intensity. I’ll give Michigan State credit. They played hard, they were down a goal. I thought they stuck with it. They deserve the win; you can’t play 56 minutes and think, ‘That’s a hockey game’.”
For the first 17 minutes of the game, both teams didn’t have a lot of good scoring opportunities, as both squads played strong in their own zones.
However, a fluttering deflection, floating over Michigan State senior goaltender Jeff Lerg in a rainbow-like arch, netted the first goal of the game for the Nanooks. Freshman defenseman Joe Sova got credit for his second goal on the season, while senior wing Braden Walls got the assist for Alaska.
After playing a very strong first period, the Spartans found themselves down by a goal thanks to the fluke score. Then again, the Nanooks outshot Michigan State 14-6 in the first period, so perhaps it was their perseverance that resulted in the good fortune. Overall, Lerg made 35 saves in the win.
“Jeff played very well in goal,” Comley said. “You’ve got to have some breaks. You need some good things to happen to move forward. Maybe this will be the start of it.”
The Spartans had an excellent chance to tie the score in the second period when they had a 5-on-3 for a full two minutes. Following a game misconduct penalty on Nanooks freshman defenseman Scott Enders and a two-minute minor penalty for hooking on senior center and captain Adam Naglich, Michigan State still couldn’t get the puck past Alaska senior goaltender Chad Johnson.
MSU was just 11-for-94 on the power play this season coming into tonight’s game, so this was business as usual for their floundering offense, despite Leveilles game-tying power play goal in the third period.
“We just couldn’t much going offensively,” Comley said. “The confidence level is really, really low. It’s so hard to instill confidence. You need a couple of good things to go for you and maybe you can use that as a catalyst.”
The Nanooks had their own extended power play in the second period. After two successive penalties on the Spartans, Alaska had almost two minutes of 5-on-3 opportunity, and when that expired, MSU took another penalty to give the Nanooks two more minutes of man-up chances.
However, the Spartans’ penalty kill has been solid this year at 86.4%, and Alaska was unable to extend their lead as the period came to a close. In fact, the Nanooks were 0-for-5 tonight on the power play.
“We had a couple of big penalty kills,” Comley said. “They had the power play with less than two minutes to go. The fact we persevered and work hard and never quit; I thought we competed pretty well and got better as the game went on.”
We’ll rebound,” Ferguson said. “There are a lot of down heads in that locker room. They know they just gave away two valuable points in this conference.”
The two CCHA foes square again Saturday night in East Lansing. The puck first drops at 7:05 p.m. ET.