Spartans Lament Missed Opportunities
by Scott McLaughlin/CHN Writer
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. With 1:18 left in the first period of Friday's NCAA first-round game, Michigan State's Brock Shelgren raised his arms in celebration after batting a puck into the net out of mid-air. The goal would have tied the game at one, but it was ruled no-goal on the ice, the call stood after video review, and the Spartans went on to lose the game 3-1.
The official ruling, according to the NCAA, was that "the net was dislodged prior to the puck entering the net." Replay showed that Union's Josh Jooris backed into the post during the scrum, knocking the left side of the net off the mooring. Adding insult to injury was the fact that a delay of game penalty could not be assessed to Jooris because "penalties cannot be called by the use of video replay."
To the Spartans' credit, they didn't complain about the call after the game and said all the right things.
"The refs said they looked at it from every possible angle," said junior assistant captain Anthony Hayes. "We trust them to make the decision. That's why they're out there. We knew when they took as long as they did, it was gonna be a close call. We were prepared to handle it either way. ... It had nothing to do with the outcome of the game."
Hayes can say it had no effect on the game, but it's impossible not to wonder if the final score might have been different had the goal counted. Union wound up scoring just 3:20 into the second to take a 2-0 lead.
The Spartans cut the lead to one late in the second and controlled play for much of the third, but couldn't manage to score the equalizer. They certainly had plenty of chances, with perhaps the best one coming on a Lee Reimer one-timer from the high slot that Union goalie Troy Grosenick barely got his glove on.
"The guys did a good job of keeping their heads up on the bench," said junior captain Torey Krug. "I'm really proud of the way guys handled that [third period]. They were up on the bench cheering one another, and we fed off each other's energy. Unfortunately we weren't able to capitalize on any of those chances."
Despite the loss, and despite the lack of quality offensive chances in the first two periods, Michigan State coach Tom Anastos said he was happy with his team's effort.
"The game was played pretty much as we expected," Anastos said. "We expected that it would be a very tough game to find space, very difficult for us to create scoring chances. ... The difference was they took advantage of some mistakes that we made and scored, and some real good opportunities that we had, we weren't able to do that. I was happy with the compete level and work of our team. I thought we worked hard the entire 60 minutes."
The effort on Friday isn't the only thing the Spartans should be happy about. After all, expectations from the outside weren't very high for a team that had missed the NCAA tournament three years in a row and was bringing in a first-year head coach. But Anastos told his team right from the start that he expected to win now.
The Spartans played their best hockey from late October to early December, when they reeled off an 8-1-1 run. They also went 6-2-0 in February to secure the last first-round bye for the CCHA tournament, only to get swept by Miami in the quarterfinals.
"I was real proud of our guys," Anastos said. "We made a big jump from where we started to where we are today. It obviously hurts a lot. I feel for everybody sitting in the dressing room, especially the seniors who poured their heart into helping as we transitioned. They really helped lead and lay a foundation for us to do lots of great stuff in the future."
Sophomore goalie Will Yanakeff, who made 29 saves Friday, said there are a lot of positives the team can take into next season, even though it will lose nine seniors to graduation.
"I think we have a lot to build on," Yanakeff said. "It was one of our goals to make it this far. We made it here, so we're happy about that. Everyone competed really hard, all season. The end result wasn't what we wanted. We didn't want to end our season like this, but I think we have a lot to build on for next year."