EAST LANSING – For the second time in as many nights, the Michigan State Spartans overcame a two-goal deficit in the final 20 minutes of play.
Roughly 24 hours after Michigan State rallied from two down to win 3-2 in their home opener, they needed two comebacks in the third period Saturday night to record a NCAA-recognized 3-3 tie, and win in the ensuing shootout.
Greg Wolfe, Matt DeBlouw and Brent Darnell scored Michigan State’s regulation goals, while Darnell added the lone goal in the shootout to give the Spartans a ‘win’ at Munn Ice Arena (the NCAA does not incorporate shootouts into their record-keeping).
“I think every goal we’ve scored this year has been in the third period in the regular season,” Darnell said after the game. “So it was good, two nights in a row we come back from two goals down in the third to tie it up there. I think it’s good early in the year to get out there, even though things didn’t go our way in the first half of the game, we stuck with it. They’re a patient hockey club so we knew what to expect from them, so we just had to stick to our game plan there, and we knew things would come our way. We got a few ugly ones there going to the net hard, and luckily, even though it doesn’t count as a win, the shootout was still good, get some confidence there, Will [Yanakeff] made three big saves, so that was good for us.”
MSU improved to 1-2-1 on the season with the tie. It was the Spartans’ final tune-up before the CCHA regular season begins next week; Michigan State travels to Lake Superior State to open conference play.
“Well I think there’s a lot of positives we can take from the weekend, but we still have a lot of work,” said Wolfe, recently named the Spartans’ captain. “We’ve got to start making smarter plays, reacting a little quicker, and just come together a little bit more, and start playing more consistently as a whole group.”
Niagara’s Chris Lochner opened the scoring in the first period with a shot from the right of the slot at the 4:53 mark of the first period. Giancario Iuorio would build on the Purple Eagles’ lead at the 7:14 mark of the second period when he scored the only power-play goal of the evening.
Wolfe jump-started the Spartans’ offense early in the third period, when the Spartans’ captain drove to the left post to tip in a cross-ice pass from linemate Lee Reimer. Freshman John Draeger also assisted on the goal.
“It felt great,” Wolfe said when asked about his goal. “It was two nights in a row where you’re down 2-0, you think you can do it, and the first goal really sparks the team. I was excited, the bench was excited, you could tell that everyone was pretty pumped up, everyone was encouraging each other, so it was really exciting, and it got the team rolling a little bit, so it was very positive.”
Five minutes later, DeBlouw scored his first collegiate goal, knocking in a rebound from Darnell’s initial shot. Draeger once again picked up an assist on the play.
The Purple Eagles would regain the lead, however, on a goal by Dan Kolenda recorded at the 11:38 mark of the third.
Michigan State couldn’t find the tying goal until they pulled Yanakeff, and had a face-off inside the Niagara zone. Off a face-off win by Lee Reimer, Wolfe managed to nudge the puck to Darnell, who fired a shot off the left post and into the back of the net to force overtime with 49 seconds remaining.
A scoreless overtime session meant a tie for both clubs, but they participated in a shootout to name an unofficial winner of the contest. There, both Wolfe and Travis Walsh didn’t even manage shots on goal – the puck slipped off their sticks during their approaches to the goal – but Darnell managed to get his past goaltender Carsen Chubak.
“Seeing those two lose it – the ice has been bad here all week – but I knew what I was doing the whole thing until I kind of lost the puck too,” Darnell said of his shootout goal. “In a last-ditch effort I just tried to slide it in because he was sprawled out, and luckily it slipped right under there. I was pretty relieved, the guys were giving me a hard time…that wasn’t what I wanted to do, I wanted to go upstairs, but I was just lucky that it squeaked in there.”