EAST LANSING, Mich. — Two unassisted goals for Lake Superior State would have been the story of this game were it not for the ability of Michigan State to respond quickly – and the 45-save performance of sophomore Will Yanakeff.
In the end, when the game was tied 2-2 as late as 17:02 in the third period, the Spartans held off the Lakers for a 4-2 win.
Afterward, MSU coach Tom Anastos credited the Lakers with a game well played.
“That’s a real good team,” Anastos said. “I say that every week, but it’s really true. It’s a real good team. We were happy with the results although we think there’s parts of our game [that] if we want to give ourselves a chance to win against that good team tomorrow night we’re going to have to clean up between now and then.”
One of the things that the Spartans will have to clean up is play early and late in periods. All the scoring in this game was done in batches, with the Lakers taking a 1-0 lead 28 seconds into the game before MSU responded with two goals two minutes apart midway through the first, and LSSU scoring at 17:02 in the third before the Spartans answered with the game-winning goal at 18:50 and the empty-netter at 19:45.
That early goal – Fred Cassiani’s unassisted pickup of his own rebound after he took possession of the puck behind the MSU net – took the Spartans off guard, but put Yanakeff on notice.
“That first quick goal they had was a little bit frustrating, but we were able to come back from it and I just kept working hard the whole game,” said Yanakeff. “That’s really what kept me motivated, just keep working hard.”
“I told them that one goal’s not going to win this game, so let’s just go on the attack and keep playing,” said Anastos. “There’s too much of the game [left] to get flustered over. I didn’t think we were very good in that period.”
Goals by Mike Merrifield at 9:03 in the first and Brett Perlini at 11:02 gave MSU the 2-1 lead after one, a period in which the Spartans were outshot 18-5.
The second and third periods were more evenly played, but no one found the net until Kellan Lain tied the game, 2-2, at 17:02 in the third, another unassisted – and very fluky – goal that ricocheted back behind Yanakeff off MSU defenseman Matt Crandell’s leg.
“I didn’t even see it,” said Yanakeff. “I just saw Crans coming up from behind the net and went to make an outlying pass to the wing, and I just heard it go off his shin pads. The next thing I know, the puck was at my feet. I didn’t even know what happened.”
Once again, though, the Spartans were able to answer quickly, this time when Kevin Walrod picked up the rebound of Jake Chelios’ wraparound attempt.
“I saw Jake with a head of steam with the puck and he was coming up my wing,” said Walrod. “I told him, ‘Go! Go!’ and not to give up to me and he drove the puck wide eventually around the net. I just went to the net thinking that maybe he’d throw it in front, and of course he did, and I was lucky enough to see the puck right in front of the crease and put it in.”
“Our game, there were parts of it that we liked and parts that we didn’t like,” said Anastos. “Obviously responding after that unusual goal – I don’t know what else to call it – but I was real happy with the poise that they showed and the heart that they showed in fighting off after working so hard and giving up that kind of goal and then coming back and getting one.”
As for the Lakers – who outshot the Spartans 47-27 – it was just a matter of not being able to finish more of the chances they did create.
“We played hard,” said LSSU coach Jim Roque. “We just didn’t score. It’s tough to win a game scoring one goal. We’ve got to bear down, find ways to score goals. I thought Kevin [Kapalka] played good in net, made a couple of mistakes. They scored on those chances and we didn’t, and they win the game.”
The Lakers (13-11-3, 8-9-2-2 CCHA) and Spartans (13-9-3, 8-7-2-2 CCHA) meet again at 7:05 p.m. Saturday night.