Spartans Win National Title
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
ST. LOUIS Boston College was 10 minutes, 7 seconds from a national championship. Later, it was 18 seconds from overtime.
As was the case seemingly all season long, the consensus — which in this case is that vague polling of college hockey "experts" that picked BC to win — was wrong. In the blink of an eye, Michigan State, a team that was considered an afterthought for most of the season, capped off a brilliant stretch run by turning a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 win, and won its third national championship.
"I don't think they deserved the credit before this, and they haven't got it. But now they should be talked about as a team that's resilient and maximixed what's there, and just laid it on the line. And I think every team that wins something, at some point, puts aside individual goals."
And the Eagles were left bridesmaids for the second straight season.
The genesis of the winning goal came on a botched drop-pass attempt by Boston College senior forward-turned-defenseman Brian Boyle at the offensive blue line. Looking for Joe Rooney, it was intercepted and created a 3-on-1 for Michigan State.
Justin Abdelkader took it down the ice, and put a shot off the outside of the post. But the MSU defense kept it in the zone, and then Tim Kennedy found Abdelkader in front, and Abdelkader buried the winning goal with 18 seconds left in regulation.
"I hit the pipe or crossbar or something, and I said, 'Wow, I hope that wasn't a turning point in the game,'" Abdelkader said. "And when we got a chance, the defense pinched down, and Timmy got the puck. And when Timmy gets the puck, I know to get in the area where I'm open, because he's going to find me."
Boyle, who turned down major NHL offers after last year's brilliant junior campaign to be in this very position with another shot at a title, was left heartbroken at the turn of events.
"I took a chance, kind of went down, thought we had an odd-man rush, and I just kind of turned it over at the blue line," Boyle said. "It's something I can't really put into words. It was just a mistake and they capitalized and I picked the wrong time of the game for that to happen.
"I was going to Roons, he was on my left. The (defender), give him credit, I don't know who it was, he faked like he was going towards me and cut the pass right off. I thought I was going to take two guys with me towards the net and give Roons some room, but they played it great, turned it over and came right down."
The title for Michigan State was its first since 1986. Comley won his second national championship, and became the third coach, after Jerry York (BC and Bowling Green) and Ned Harkness (Cornell and RPI) to win national titles with two different programs.
The Spartans did it against a Boston College team that had won its last 13 games and seemed to be only getting better, loaded with speed, skill and strength.
"Their speed, that's their strength, but we knew that," MSU senior Chris Lawrence said. "And the coach designed our system and our neutral zone, kind of four across there to slow them down, that's the way we play. But when we get the puck, we attack, we forecheck. We faced fast teams all year. We played Michigan six times and they're probably a faster team than BC. We did the right things to win."
Boyle's inexperience on defense may have led to the tying goal as well.
After a penalty call on the Eagles set up a 4-on-3 MSU power play, Boyle and fellow defenseman Mike Brennan got confused on coverage off the faceoff near the Boston College blue line. That allowed Kennedy to take the puck, swoop in, and put a wrist shot just past the blocker of BC goalie Cory Schneider.
"We didn't know where to set up on the faceoff, but I went halfway towards the scrum off the drop," Boyle said. "I didn't know exactly where I was supposed to be, and Mike didn't know where he was supposed to be on the switch. I just hung with it and tried to get a stick on it. ... It was just a lapse for a quick second."
Michigan State was on its heels for most of the first period, with BC getting a 13-6 shot advantage. But the Eagles didn't score, and that first period could be considered a victory for the Spartans.
"That was critical," Comley said. "I said to the guys, give me one thing, give me five minutes of 0-0 hockey. Just so we don't have to chase them. Because they're really good. ... We got everybody in the game (in the first five minutes). But we couldn't play three periods like that — we wouldn't survive."
In the second period, the game turned a series of power plays — first for Boston College, then three straight for Michigan State.
Yes, it was only BC that got a goal in that stretch — Boyle's 19th, coming off a giveaway by Michigan State — but the Spartans believe they settled the game down.
"I think the team was pretty tired. We had to kill a lot of penalties in a short stretch of time," Rooney said. "That gave them a little momentum. But in the start of the third, I think we kept playing hard and well, but didn't get the bounces."
"The second was pretty much even," York said. "But it came in a stretch where they came right together and Cory had to play really, really well in that stretch."
BC had a golden opportunity to make it 2-0, but Boyle just missed a shorthanded 2-on-1 when MSU goalie Jeff Lerg made a tremendous glove save.
"Joe Rooney makes a terrific pass to Brian Boyle — Lerg just kind of stabbed it with the glove," York said. "That was a really key part of the game. Terrific save by Lerg."
In fact, it was just one of many brilliant saves for Lerg, the diminutive sophomore who plays with a severe asthmatic condition.
"It's nothing different for us," Abdelkader said. "He's been doing that all season for us. He plays every angle. In practice, you're celebrating if you score on him. He squares up to every puck so well."
Said Comley, "He hopes people will stop talking about he's too small. He's played now Schneider, (Ben) Bishop, (David) Brown, (John) Curry, (Jeff) Jakaitis. Pretty good."
It was the fourth title game loss for BC under Jerry York. Last year, the Eagles lost 2-1 to Wisconsin when Peter Harrold's shot hit the post with under two seconds remaining.
"When we sign up to play sports, that's what you get involved with," York said. "There's going to be a winner, there's going to be a loser. You try as hard as you can, but there's no guarantees in this business. I think our kids are old enough to understand that."