Friday, March 23, 2012

Union Edges Michigan State 3-1

Sometimes if you didn't have bad luck, you'd have no luck at all.

The Spartans battled hard for 60 minutes against the #1 seed Union Dutchmen, but Union had just a little too much in the end defeating Michigan State 3-1. The Spartans came out with a spirited effort early on, and Union seemed to struggle with the aggressive forecheck in the first part of the first period. However, an untimely 5 minute major penalty assessed to Dean Chelios shifted the momentum early on. Union found their legs on the power play, but Will Yanakeff stood tall in goal for the Spartans keeping Union off the board. Eventually, Union took a penalty during the power play that negated the power play, and MSU survived their first true test.

That good feeling didn't last long though as Max Novak broke a scoreless tie on the 4 on 4 blasting a shot past Yanakeff. The Spartans didn't back down though, as they came back and tied it, or so they thought. Off of a scramble in front of the net, the Spartans looked like they knocked the puck out of mid-air and into the corner of the net. WCHA official Derek Shepherd, who has been at the center of a handful of controversies during games in the WCHA conference, immediately waived the goal off. Live, during the game, it looked like the puck never went in.

Upon further review, the puck did clearly cross the goal line, but that wasn't the issue at hand. Shepherd ruled the net had become dislodged prior to the puck crossing the line. After a lengthy review, the call on the ice stood, and Michigan State was denied a very big, late first period goal.

Shots on goal in the first period favored Union 9-6.

The second period didn't open much better for the Spartans. Michigan State nearly tied the game again as the puck rolled in front of the goal line, but Union picked up the loose puck, skated down, and Jeremy Welsh picked up a rebound and skated around Yanakeff to put Union up 2-0. At that point, it looked like Michigan State had a huge uphill climb, but they didn't back down. The Spartans regained their legs and finally got a power play chance late in the period that nearly became a disaster. With the puck coming out of the zone, Torey Krug made a split decision to skate up and try to poke the puck up the ice to prevent a 3 on 1. The only problem was he wasn't successful, and Union had a shorthanded 3 on 0, but didn't execute it. With new life, the Spartans skated back down in the offensive zone, and Matt Berry blasted a shot past Troy Grosenick to pull Michigan State to within 1, with just 38.7 seconds remaining in the period. Shots in the middle period were 13-7 Union.

In the final period, MSU came out with a lot of jump but failed to net the equalizer. Lee Reimer probably had the best chance just inside of 8 minutes to go as he one-timed a shot in the slot that was fought off by Grosenick. Union's Wayne Simpson iced the game away with a late power play marker. Shots for the game were 32-21 Union.

Union ended the game 1 for 4 on the power play. Michigan State was 1 for 3.

The Question is - Should The Goal Have Counted? It Did In Alaska.

In the NHL, there would be no doubt, the goal would count. However, this is college hockey, and the rule that has been quoted is Rule 16, Section 18-12 that "the net has to be in place when the puck crosses the goal line". Replays showed that Union player had dislodged the net, and the NCAA even admitted after the game that the player intentionally dislodged it. The issue there is you cannot call penalties on replays, but had Shepherd made the call on the ice - a penalty (or even a penalty shot) may have been awarded.

The rule quoted:

“If the goal cage has been moved or dislodged. The goal frame is considered to be displaced if any portion of the goal frame is not in its proper position (e.g., frame must be completely flat on the ice surface, goal posts must be in proper place and affixed securely in place with its pegs).”

The NCAA also admitted the puck went in the net. So the question became what happened first, the puck crossing the line, or the net being dislodged. Now it should be made clear that the net seemed to come back into place, so it never was fully off its moorings. However, that doesn't matter. The net was lifted up - which is the action that Shepherd decided to waive the goal off on the ice. Replays proved to be inconclusive, so the on-ice call stood.

Coach Anastos said after the game that he trusts the process, but he would look at it.  He also added that he was in a one-shot game, and they had a goal disallowed.

It appears, by the letter of the law, the officials made the correct call. However, the spirit of the game has lost today.

What might be even more ironic is the NCAA rules committee actually reviewed this rule last summer, but they decided not to change it - yet.

 Awarding goals – net dislodged by defensive team. In many cases, the goal cage is knocked off – often unintentionally – by the defending team right before a goal is scored. Current rules do not allow an official to award a goal unless it is obvious and imminent and an egregious act occurs by the defensive team. The committee believes there are some goals that should count in these situations and plans to adjust these rules accordingly.

Was a goal obvious and imminent with the egregious act occurring? Well, the egregious act was there (the NCAA admitted it, even though no penalty was called). But I don't know if you can say the goal was "obvious", although it certainly was possible - and by the action of the puck going it - that shows you it was.

The rules committee needs to do the right there here and tweak this rule. Michigan State actually has been hurt by this before, just last season, in the playoffs - only in reverse. Alaska scored the game winning goal in the first game of the first round in the CCHA play-offs in a similar manner. The net was bumped, very similar to today, by the defense (in that game it was MSU), then the puck went in, but the goal was counted on the ice, and after review.

Inconsistent application of the rule to say the least. I said then that goal shouldn't have counted, so I suppose it would be hypocritical of me to ask for a different ruling here. Other than if that goal did count, why didn't this one?

The Spartans will be thinking of that for awhile now, and who knows how the rest of the game would play out then, but a 1-1 first intermission score certainly is different than 1-0. Then maybe Union doesn't come out and take a 2-0 lead. We saw MSU use the momentum of a late period goal to generate chances early on in the 3rd.

In The End - The Missed Chances Should Be The Focus

The Spartans had numerous chances in this game to score, but they just couldn't finish. Matt Berry maybe played his best game in a Spartan Uniform. Kevin Walrod  had the early opportunity in the second. Lee Reimer in the final period could have tied it up. MSU was right there in the end, and they fought through all of this to give themselves a chance.

In the end, this season is about the rebirth of the MSU program. Most people thought Michigan State would have finished in the middle of the pack in the CCHA, losing in the first round of the playoffs, maybe getting home ice in the first round would be the highlight of the season.

This team did more. While a 5th place finish might still be "middle-of-the-pack", they earned a first round bye. They earned a NCAA tournament bid. And they helped Coach Anastos get this program back on track to where Michigan State fans are used to seeing it.

That won't be a bad legacy to leave behind - especially if Michigan State continues next season and beyond to build on this one. The biggest off season question will be if Captain Torey Krug decides to go pro or stay for his senior season in East Lansing. In the meantime, the coaching staff will continue to look to put together a strong recruiting class and continue what they have started.

It's a dawn of a new era, and the future is looking very bright.

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