The Lunch Pail Group
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
ST. LOUIS Michigan State found itself in an early 2-0 hole before the game was four minutes old.
Michigan State coach Rick Comley was trying not to let his emotions show to his team. That's when he got a tiny bit of welcome news — assistant coach Brian Renfrew reminded him that it was only 30 seconds from a TV timeout.
Comley decided to wait it out.
"Plus, I trusted (goalie) Jeff (Lerg)," Comley said. "Sometimes you call a timeout and, No. 1 it's gone, and they're thinking you're in trouble. I was in trouble emotionally myself. But I didn't think it was the right time."
It was just one of the many right moves for Comley. His team settled down, got physical, played smart, and contained Maine the rest of the way.
"I almost put (Chris) Mueller back with (Matt) Schepke and (Nick) Sucharski for the third period," Comley said. "I thought that would give us better depth," Comley said. "They were playing two lines and I thought they were getting tired. But I decided to stay with it and Sucharksi gets the winning goal, so ..."
As a result, Michigan State is in the final for the first time since 1987, when Kevin and Kip Miller were trying to give the Spartans a repeat before losing to North Dakota. And Comley is in his first final since winning one with Northern Michigan in 1991.
"I could see it coming. I wondered this year if we would have to patch it a bit," said Comley, who was hand-picked by former coach — now AD — Ron Mason to take over five years ago. "Last year's team was really good. This year's team just didn't have the offensive ability last year's team had. ... It's a character win as opposed to pure talent."
In a day and age when a lot of blue chip talent leaves college before fully developing every facet of their games, it takes a lunchpail group to remind you sometimes of the thin line between championships and staying home.
"Our pure talent was better last year. (David) Booth, (Corey) Potter, Drew Miller. The heralded kids aren't with us anymore," Comley said.
"It's a big lesson for me, because I spent the first half of the year wishing I had another defenseman or another winger or I couldn't find a third line. But like (former NHL coach) Fred Shero used to say, 'Pick a team and coach it.'"
Comley said there is lesson to be learned in all of this, about building championship teams, even if the creation of this squad wasn't exactly planned this way.
"I think there is (a lesson) — don't give up on anybody, and college hockey is so tight. You just have to play well at the right time of the year," Comley said.
"All coaches coach. Obviously we were a team that was emerging. We have no all-stars. We need a lot of guys playing well. It's a team style and there's strength in that. We were able to draw on that (when we were down 2-0)."
Michigan State will face a much different opponent on Saturday than Maine, because of the speed North Dakota and Boston College have through four lines.
"We knew them. We were identical style wise," Comley said. "Whoever we meet (in the final) we have a completely different challenge."