Michigan State's Reign Ends
by Mike Donovan/CHN Reporter
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. Michigan State was able to surprise quite a few hockey observers last season when they stormed through the NCAA tournament despite coming into the tourney as a regional three seed. But the Spartans were unable to repeat the trick as the lower-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish sent the Spartans home one game short of the Frozen Four.
Despite playing a close game throughout, the Spartans' downfall was a key third-period goal by Notre Dame's Mark Van Guilder. The goal, which occurred with six minutes remaining, was the most important play in the contest and MSU seemed to be aware of that fact.
"Whoever scored that goal, that was going to be huge and it just didn't go our way," said last season's Frozen Four MOP Justin Abdelkader.
Despite the loss, head coach Rick Comley seemed to be happy with his team's performance in both the game and the season.
"It's important to keep this in perspective," Comley said. "This team's had some really good years. To get to a regional final is pretty darn good.
"The experience was tremendous; the games at this stage are so close."
With the season coming to an end, Abdelkader was able to put the year into perspective only 20 minutes after the game.
"Overall we had a good season. It was a solid season; it wasn't really a roller coaster year," Abdelkader said. "It was disappointing not making it to the CCHA finals, but to beat CC on their home rink was an awesome feeling."
Both Abdelkader and Comley noted how the revenge factor may have a played a part in the team's victory. Michigan State defeated Notre Dame at the same junction of the NCAA tournament last season.
"They had desperation from last year after we did to them," Abdelkader said.
"We did it to them last year, and sure enough they did it to us this year," Comley said.
Spartans goalie, Jeff Lerg, was named the most outstanding goalie of the regional said the game was reflective of most postseason games.
"You could tell they were hungry. That's what happen in playoff games. That's part of the game," Lerg said.
Despite his phenomenal play in the two games, Lerg was unable to stop three of the Irish's shots. He was still named to regional's first team, however, that was not enough for Sparty's boys to advance.
After the game, the Michigan State locker room was quiet, but not the same atmosphere as both CC's and UNH's the day before. Comley was a man of few words to his players.
"All I did was shake the kids' hands and thank all the seniors. I'll talk to the team more when we get back," Comley said.
It was the last time five seniors will skate for the Spartans, however, they will return both Lerg and Abdelkader for next season. Despite the returning players, Abdelkader says this year's season class should not be overlooked.
"Michigan State is a powerhouse in hockey now. Without the senior class I don't know if that would have happened," Abdelkader said.
With the victory, Notre Dame became the first four seed to advance since the seedings expanded in 2003. The West Regionals also so became the first ever to have all three lower seeded teams defeat the higher seed.
Despite having lost and tied to MSU earlier in the season on this day, at least, Notre Dame was the better team, according to Comley.
"The was a little difference between us, but technically the better team tonight won," Comley said.