EAST LANSING, Mich. — Heading into the third period tonight, anyone watching this game might have thought it was already over. No. 11 Michigan State was leading 4-1 and had outshot Alabama-Huntsville 29-12 through two periods, and the Chargers haven’t exactly established themselves as a comeback team in this young season, having been outscored 25-9 in five previous losses.
When Justin Cseter scored to make it 4-2 at 16:12 in the third, however, things changed.
The Chargers netted three goals in the final four minutes of regulation to force overtime, and came close to winning in OT with the man advantage. The game ended tied at four.
It’s not surprising that no one in green and white was happy when all was over, but on the other side of the rink, UAH was just as displeased. Chargers head coach Chris Luongo said that the slow starts are a puzzle UAH is trying to solve and he made it clear that there’s no such thing as a moral victory.
“It’s not a two period game,” said Luongo outside of a Chargers locker room that was dead silent.
“We didn’t outplay them enough, and we really didn’t give ourselves an opportunity enough.
“Really, it’s not ‘we.’ I’m not necessarily pointing a finger, but our [locker] room needs to solve that. As a group, they need to solve it. When it comes down to it, they’re the guys that provide the emotion. Ultimately, it is up to them.”
“They only had two scoring chances the first two periods, and they scored on one of them,” said
MSU head coach Rick Comley. In the final minutes, the Chargers went “from protecting to attacking,” said Comley. “We were sloppy.”
Zach Golembiewski opened the scoring for the Spartans in the first period at 9:39, a soft goal on an essentially empty net after the puck squeaked through the legs of UAH goaltender C.J. Groh, who was turned around and facing the net at the left post. All Golembiewski had to do was tap it home.
MSU led 2-1 after one on goals by Daultan Leveille and Jake Chelios that sandwiched Charger Keenan Desmet’s second marker of the season. Leveille’s goal was a wrap-around at 4:43.
Desmet answered when he converted a turnover in front of the MSU net at 10:26. Chelios’ goal at 19:03 looked like an innocent shot through traffic from the left point. Spartans 4, Chargers 1.
“I think a bunch of guys thought it was kind of in the bag, third period coming around and being up three goals,” said Leveille. “I think we sat back a bit too much and got away from our systems.
“We were trying to play a bit too defensive and let them have too much ice and that caught up to us in the end.”
In the end is right. Cseter started the third-period flurry for the Chargers, finishing Desmet’s hard work behind the goal. Desmet fought to keep the puck close to the MSU net and handed off to Cseter, who skated across the crease and lifted the puck up and over Drew Palmisano on the glove side.
Just over a minute later at 17:30, Neil Ruffini made it 4-3 when he scored on the fly, shooting past a Spartan defender in the slot to beat Palmisano clean and high.
Then at 19:56 and with a two-man advantage — an empty net plus a power play with Leveille in the box for slashing — Joey Koudys hit the Spartan post, the puck hit Palmisano’s back and bounced into the MSU net, and the game was tied 4-4.
Luongo said that the way the Chargers ended the game came from “making a decision to go 100 percent.”
“It’s difficult to maintain a pace like that for 60 minutes,” said Luongo. “We have to find a way to do it for more than 40.”
“We played okay for 50 minutes,” said Comley. “Weakest game of the year, for sure.”
UAH finished the night 1-for-6 on the power play, MSU 0-for-6. Groh had 34 saves on 38 shots, Palmisano stopped 28-of-32.
The Chargers (1-5-1) and Spartans (2-0-3) meet again Saturday at 7:05 p.m. in Munn Ice Arena.