DETROIT — In two games, Michigan State made it look easy. With a 6-1 win over Rensselaer, the Spartans outscored opponents 16-2 en route to their 12th Great Lakes Invitational Tournament championship, their first since 2006.
“Obviously, I thought we played well both nights,” said MSU coach Rick Comley. “Broke down a couple of times but overall I thought very consistent. I was really pleased with the balance and scoring and people chipping in.”
Six different Spartans scored in the game, with Dustin Gazley’s first-period goal — his second of the weekend — holding up to be the game-winner. Drew Palmisano made 19 saves for a total of 47 in the tournament.
“Palmisano’s play was outstanding, very underrated,” said Comley. “When you score that many goals, you’re going to win, but it wasn’t 10-4, 10-5 last night and 6-3 tonight. He was very good.”
RPI coach Seth Appert said MSU was “outstanding” both nights.
“They were probably the best combination team that we played this year,” said Appert. “They’re very talented but also very disciplined, very strong on their system play and well coached, and certainly with the best defenseman we’ve seen in the country in [Jeff] Petry. I thought he was special. You can certainly see why he’s one of the best defensemen in the country.”
While Petry’s defensive play was key in the tourney, it was his heads-up hockey sense that led to what Appert called the turning point in tonight’s game.
By 3:15 in the second, the Spartans went up 3-0 on Dean Chelios’ goal, a nice five-hole finish on a low backhanded feed from Trevor Nill with Chelios, Nill and Torey Krug crashing the net. At 11:51, though, the Engineers scored their only goal of the night when Patrick Cullen fired from close in on the right, beating Palmisano on the short side.
That goal gave life to the Engineers — until Petry took it away in the final minute of the period. Petry took a pass that RPI’s Brandon Pirri sent toward the neutral zone to clear and passed back to Corey Tropp on the right wing. Tropp shot, Engineers’ goaltender Allen York saved, and Petry sent the ensuing rebound right back past the goalie to give MSU a 4-1 lead with 32 seconds left in the second.
“I thought we were very passive in the first period,” said Appert. “We have to get past coming out and tiptoeing into a game. We’ve got to get aggressive no matter who we’re playing because we’re a good team when we’re aggressive.
“I thought we attacked in the second period like we normally do. We got to 3-1; had we gotten to 3-2, it might have been a different game. They made a very nice play and Petry made it, intercepted it, and then made the play to finish it. Instead of being 3-2 at the end of two, it’s 4-1, and that was the nail in the coffin.”
The Spartans led 2-0 after one on goals by Chris Forfar and Gazley. Forfar picked up a rebound of Brett Perlini’s tip on the power play at 10:55, and Gazley banked the puck off of Bryce Merriam’s backside at 14:28. That goal ended the game for Merriam, who started tonight after York’s 43-save performance in RPI’s 4-3 win over Michigan in the first round.
“I thought Bryce should have had and normally would have had the first two goals,” said Appert, “but he also played pretty good in the first 10 minutes of that game. It was our team play that was putting us in trouble. Bryce was outstanding against Boston University on the road; he beat BU right before break.
“Allen faced a lot of shots and a lot of attack time last night, especially when you’re coming off a two-week break. I was worried a little bit about fatigue for him tonight.
“It didn’t look like the best decision, but at the same time, I’ve got a lot of belief in Bryce. He’s going to be a good goaltender for us in the future.”
Perlini scored his third goal of the weekend at 10:21 in the third to make it 5-1, and Andrew Rowe added his sixth of the season at 15:58. The Engineers had their chances in the final stanza, with nearly two minutes of a five-on-three advantage and two more power plays.
“In the first couple of minutes in the third we came out aggressive again,” said Appert. “We drew a penalty, and we drew another penalty. There was still a lot of time left; I think there was twelve, thirteen minutes to go when we drew those penalties. And I liked the way we were playing, again, at that point. We didn’t score on that, and that really gave them momentum.
“It was a turning-point play, just like their goal at the end of the second, and it obviously sucked momentum from us.”
The Engineers finished the game 0-for-4 on the power play, the Spartans one-for-three. Merriam had seven saves, York 18.
The win gives Michigan State (14-6-2) more wins than any other team in the nation and four more total wins than the Spartans had last season.
“Winning means everything; losing just sucks the air right out of you,” said Comley. “This is a big tournament for Michigan State. It’s one of the things that you target and it means so much to the three permanent schools that are in this tournament and you don’t ever want to downplay what that means to your community.”