After last year’s national championship game, we all learned how good of a goaltender Jeff Lerg is.
If you still weren’t convinced, however, his play this season solidified his status among the college hockey goaltending elite.
Friday night at the Colorado Springs World Arena, Lerg played like the playoff goaltender he is, outdueling perhaps one of the next members of the goaltending elite in Colorado College’s Richard Bachman, aiding his Michigan State Spartans to a 3-1 victory and a chance to play for the Frozen Four once again.
“Obviously a great win, but that’s kind of us,” said head coach Rick Comley. “Our goalie’s kind of good.”
The junior from Livonia, Mich., is more than “kind of good,” of course — you have to be more than “kind of good” to be a Hobey Baker finalist.
You also have to be more than “kind of good” if shutting you down is one of the keys to a game.
“Jeff Lerg played up to his accomplishments from last year and everything else he’s done in terms of a big-game goalie. I thought he was outstanding,” said CC coach Scott Owens. “[One] thing I thought could hurt us in this game came back to hurt us and it was Lerg, the goaltender.”
“We knew he was an unbelievable goalie coming in and the key thing is we wanted to get traffic in front of him,” said Tiger forward Scott Thauwald. “He’s a smaller goalie. We wanted to move him laterally, from side to side.
“He’s just a great goalie,” he continued. “Lerg stood on his head; he played a good game and goalies are what win playoff hockey games.”
And win playoff hockey games he does, all but one he’s been in since being a freshman. Admittedly, there was some worry coming into the Springs — Lerg is an asthmatic and the World Arena, at 6,305 feet above sea level, has a bit less oxygen than he and the rest of the Spartans are used to.
“We survived,” said Comley. “You can ask the players; it was tough. Guys cramping; (freshman defenseman) Jeff Petry really struggled with his asthma and Jeff Lerg looked like he held up okay.
“We thought we better give him a lot of shots tonight so he could make the adjustment,” he quipped.
“This game was kind of a battle, for me personally and Jeff Petry,” said Lerg. “[We] were both doing our breathing machines between every period and I kind of felt real tight, but as the game went on and I got more shots against me, I felt more comfortable out there and my breathing was able to withstand the 60 minutes.”
His breathing and the Spartans both outlasted the Tigers, despite CC getting on the board in the latter half of the third period, reviving the home crowd.
“They were a tough team to play against, but I just had to make all the saves I was supposed to and make a couple big ones,” he said.
As a result, Lerg gets another chance to shine in a tough building on Saturday against CCHA foe Notre Dame, to quietly continue winning, one game at a time.