NCAA Frozen Four Notebook
State gets defensive
Spartans ratchet up intensity in its
own end after Maine scores early twice
By Jeff Howe,
Joe Gladziszewski and Mike Eidelbes
|Michigan State defenseman Ethan
Graham jostles for position with Maine's Michel Léveillé.
ST. LOUIS – When Maine jumped out to
a 2-0 lead 3:26 into the game, it wasn't a matter of Michigan
State making adjustments. They knew what they were doing
wrong; it was just a matter of playing better.
Maine's first two goals were noteworthy because
of the times they were scored, at 23 seconds by Keith Johnson
and 3:24 by Josh Soares, but also for the manner in which
they were scored. The Black Bears generated the chance by
starting the play working the end boards, and the goal scorer
was wide open with plenty of space in front of the net.
"Obviously it was a slow start. They
came out flying at us just like BU did and we weren't ready
for it," Ethan Graham said. "We knew what we were
doing wrong. It wasn't magic or anything, we just fixed
When these teams played in the East Regional
final in 2006 in Albany, N.Y. Maine jumped out to a 3-0
lead, so the Spartans had bad memories of what happened
"I knew the guys weren't too uptight
or nervous, when that happened I was just thinking, 'I wonder
what they're showing on ESPN right now, if they're showing
highlights from last year.'"
After Maine's early flurry they struggled
to generate any quality chances 5-on-5. The Spartans were
better by concentrating on the fundamentals of defensive-zone
"We wanted to take away the little things
they do well, they shoot pucks well and cycle well,"
Graham said. "The guys in front who tip pucks, we wanted
to take their sticks away. They had their chances, but we
weathered most of them."
And the defense led the way to allow Michigan
State's forwards to control play in the zone and generate
chances on the Maine defense, much like the Black Bears
did against the Spartan blueliners in the opening minutes
of the game.
MAINE'S FAST START TURNS SOUR
|After a rough start, Michigan
State's defense regrouped to hold the Maine offensive
attack at bay.
It was almost too good to be true.
Maine jumped ahead of Michigan State, 2-0,
finding the back of the net twice in its first four shots
3:24 into the game, and the Black Bears looked like they
were well on their way to a berth in the national championship
And, they were a couple bad breaks away from
extending that lead, too. Teddy Purcell hit the crossbar,
and a puck dancing alone in the crease got cleaned up by
a Spartan defenseman. On the other end, Michigan State batted
two pucks out of the air into the net. Ben Bishop must have
thought he was at Busch Stadium and not the Scottrade Center.
They were so close, and now they're so far
away. Maine entered the game with a 12-3-1 record when leading
after the first period and hadn't blown a game when it was
leading by a pair all season.
"It could have developed a lot of different
ways," Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. "In this
case, they did an excellent job not giving up the third
goal, and before you know it, the momentum swings to them."
"There were a couple posts here and there,
but they got the bounces," Maine forward Michel Léveillé
said. "We could have played a little harder in the
second, and we kind of let them take the momentum."
And the game.
INCH's Three Stars of the Game
Keith Johnson, Maine
forward scored Maine's first goal 23 seconds into
the game and assisted on linemate Josh Soares' goal
three minutes later that made the score 2-0 in favor
of the Black Bears. Johnson, Soares, and Michel Léveillé
were outstanding , especially in the first period.
Jim McKenzie, Michigan State
The rugged winger scored the Spartans' insurance
goal midway through the third period, fighting off
a Maine defenseman as he drove to the net, getting
his stick on the ice just in time to shovel a feed
from linemate Chris Mueller past Black Bears' goalie
Chris Mueller, Michigan State
In addition to his perfect set-up of McKenzie's
goal, Mueller got the Spartans back into the game
about four minutes after Maine jumped out to an early
2-0 edge. He outworked a Maine skater for a loose
puck behind the Black Bear goal, got a shot off that
Bishop stopped, but swatted the rebound out of midair
for his 15th goal of the season.
Story: Michigan State S-capes
Michigan State shakes an early two-goal
deficit, rallying for a 4-2 win.
SEEN AND HEARD AT THE SCOTTRADE CENTER
• The mother-in-law of Maine coach Tim
Whitehead passed away Thursday morning.
"Our hearts and prayers go out to Dena
and Tim and their families," University of Maine president
Robert Kennedy said in a statement.
• Trailing 2-0 just 3:24 into their
semi-final game with Maine, Michigan State sophomore goaltender
Jeff Lerg was visited by senior captain Chris Lawrence at
the first television timeout.
"He was really just joking around actually,"
said Lerg about the conversation. "The puck had just
hit my blocker and landed on top of the net so he said it
was a good thing I wasn't a couple of inches taller or that
would have been in. He was joking around and trying to get
me to laugh a little bit. That's how good a captain he is.
He knew how important the game was but was joking around
and letting me know that he believed.
• Spartan defenseman Chris Snavely,
who scored his second goal of the season this afternoon,
was a healthy scratch for Michigan State's first six games.
• Maine goaltender Ben Bishop, a native
of nearby Des Peres, Mo., earned a healthy ovation when
his name was announced during pre-game introductions. Michigan
State defenseman Jeff Dunne, who hails from Grover, Mo.,
didn't receive quite as large of a response, but was warmly
welcomed when introduced.
• Maine's goal 23 seconds into the game
likely gave Michigan State fans flashbacks to the Spartans'
last Frozen Four appearance in 2001, when North Dakota's
Kevin Spiewak scored on the seemingly impenetrateble Ryan
Miller — that year's Hobey Baker Award winner —
a little over a minute into the first period of MSU's 2-0
• Today’s first semifinal was
the highest scoring Frozen Four game since Northern Michigan
beat Boston University in the 1991 title match, 8-7 in three
overtimes. It’s the highest scoring semifinal contest
since 1976, when Michigan Tech topped Brown, 7-6, in two
overtimes. Minnesota and Maine combined for 11 goals back
in 1989 when the Gophers downed the Black Bears, 7-4, in
a semifinal in St. Paul, Minn.
• With this afternoon's win, Michigan
State becomes the first CCHA team to advance to the NCAA
championship game since Michigan won the national title
in Boston in 1998.
• A nice gesture by both teams following
the game: After completing the post-game handshake, the
Spartans skated over to the corner of the rink where the
majority of the MSU fans were seated and saluted them. Maine
had left the ice, but returned to the playing surface from
its locker room to show its appreciation to its fans.
• Now we know what he does in the off-season:
Spotted among a gaggle of green-clad North Dakota fans in
the lower bowl of the Scottrade Center during Thursday afternoon's
semifinal was the jolliest of elves, Santa Claus. Presumably,
he was taking notes on who was being naughty and nice. And
he picked the stuff that wasn't called, too.
an arena that has all the bells and whistles is nice, but
it's what you do with them that counts. So credit to the
Scottrade Center video board operators for their creative
use of video clips following goals. Among the best: a shot
of dancing penguins from the movie "Happy Feet"
and a clip of "Family Guy" patriarch Peter Griffin
cutting a rug.
INCH readers know we're huge fans of pep bands, and shouldn't
be surprised to see one of the ensembles earn mention in
this space. Both bands in attendance at Thursday's first
semifinal were terrific, but Maine earns special mention
for its rendition of the Killers' hit, "Mr. Brightside."
a team that scored twice in the first 3:26, the wind certainly
emptied from Maine's sails rapidly. In fact, after Michigan
State's Chris Mueller scored to cut the lead to 2-1, the
Black Bears struggled to generate prime scoring opportunies,
rarely challenging Spartan goaltender Jeff Lerg from that
as much as the NCAA preaches that its athletes are, ahem,
student-athletes, you'd think the organization would have
a better eye for detail when producing materials for its
championship events. For example, the official NCAA web
site touted the start of the "Forozen Four" Thursday,
and credentials issued to media photographers read "PHOTOGRAGHER."
Michigan State is looking for its third national
championship, having previously won in 1966 and 1986. The
Spartans are playing in the national championship game for
the first time since 1987, when they lost to North Dakota
at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.