Spartans Thwart Déjà vu
by Dane DeKrey/Staff Writer
ST. LOUIS It was déjà vu all over again for Michigan State. Only minutes into the opening period, the Spartans were already trailing 2-0 to the Maine Black Bears, the same team that ended their 2006 campaign in a similar 'early-lead' fashion. Uncharacteristically shaky play by sophomore backstop Jeff Lerg, coupled with a basket full of butterflies in the stomachs of the Spartans defensive corps was to blame for the deficit; but then something happened.
"After the second goal, we took a TV timeout and I went over to Jeff and joked with him a little bit," said senior captain, Chris Lawrence. "I told him that if he were taller, he probably could have saved at least one of those."
Lawrence's words must have stuck, as Lerg took Lawrence's humor to heart and pitched a shutout for the remainder of the game. With Lerg's confidence back, his squad responded, scoring four unanswered goals on their way to a 4-2 victory and a berth in the program's first national championship since 1987.
"Last year in the Maine game, I thought he was nervous to start," MSU coach Rick Comley said of Lerg. "The key was the one that hit his blocker and settled on the net (in the first period). Once he came back, I have so much confidence in him. He's so 'tidy.' That's a Ron Mason word."
But it wasn't just the solid play of Lerg that bolstered the Spartans to victory, rather it was a combination of lineup restructuring and commitment to physical play. Michigan State's Justin Abdelkader epitomized both changes made by head coach Rick Comley, whose score sheet — 0 G, 1 A — hardly indicated his contribution on Thursday night.
"Obviously give Maine credit, their first line came out flying and we kinda got caught on our heels," said Abdelkader of his team's slow start. "But I think after we scored that first goal and started getting physical with them, we proved we hadn't given up and that we weren't going anywhere."
It was all Michigan State all the time once the second period began, as goals off the sticks of Chris Snavely, Nick Sucharski and Jim McKenzie help put the nail in the Black Bears' coffin.
Snavely's was a one-time shot that beat Maine netminder Ben Bishop low and in the right corner. Both Sucharski and McKenzie's lamp-lighters were products of second efforts, Sucharski's amidst traffic in front of Bishop's crease and the other McKenzie simply picking up his own rebound.
"We've been coming back all year," McKenzie said. "We learned when we do stick to our systems and play within ourselves, that's when we come back."
It was a fitting end for Sucharski, who was on the ice for both of Maine's first-period tallies, as he unwittingly became a representation of the transformation his Spartans had made from a year ago — another slow start, but this time an answer. A response.
"We knew we were never out of it," said Lawrence, of his team's resiliency. "And I'm real proud of how we came back."
Said coach Rick Comley, "Resiliency, that's the word I heard all year. We don't blow anybody out. But it used to be we had to score first to win. ... They're gritty, gutty, they don't try to be something they're not. They do a good job."