It is hard to believe that I have been out of high school eight years now. My final high school spring break, in 2007, was spent in chilly, windy, and overcast St. Louis, Missouri. The Michigan State Spartans had made the Frozen Four and I was going to be attending my 5th NCAA championship finals. My first Frozen Four was in 1999 when the Spartans led by Ryan Miller and company, the #1 seed from their region, were beaten soundly by New Hampshire in Anaheim, California.
2007 was the first Frozen Four for Michigan State since 2001 and the 2007 tournament set up as a perfect storm for them to make a run. They began the tournament in Grand Rapids (where I would be moving in just 4 straight months to start college and where I still live to this day) beating Boston University 5-1. Next was a game against the number one seed, but a team the Spartans were very familiar with, league rival Notre Dame. The Spartans won a defensive battle 2-1.
<iframe width="420" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UzHmJ50n5uU" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
In St. Louis the Spartans would first get a rematch against the Maine Black Bears who ended their campaign in 2006, in the East Regional final. In that game Maine raced out to an early 3-0 lead and held on for a 5-4 victory over Michigan State. That Spartans' team had been one of the hottest in all of college hockey and was the #1 seed in the region. 2007 saw a chance for the Spartans to get their revenge and featured a goalie duel between 6'7" Ben Bishop and 5'6: Jeff Lerg. Enjoy my recap of this game as I recently sat down to view it again this past weekend.
20:00- Nick Sucharski's line started this game. The old grind line versus the other team's top line to start a national semi-final? Well, OK then. But seriously, Sucharski was greatly under-appreciated in his time at Michigan State.
19:37- Well that could not have gone worse. Maine dumps the puck into the corner, out-muscles the Spartans and Keith Johnson is left open in the slot to finish a one-timer past Jeff Lerg. 1-0 Maine
19:06- Barry Melrose has already mixed up who coaches which team, saying Tim Whitehead is the Spartans' head coach. Take me now Lord.
16:58- At this point MSU has barely been in the Maine zone and Jeff Lerg has been looking shaky in net.
16:36- The puck never leaves the zone after the face-off at 16:58 and after Tyler Howells blocks a shot from the point, Jason Soares picks up the rebound and beats Jeff Lerg. 2-0 Maine
15:44- First commercial break and the Spartans need the breather. Maine has dominated the play, as they have all season outscoring their opponents 44-28 in the 1st period.
14:22- Whistle on an off-sides and Fall Out Boy can be heard in the arena. Their contract with ESPN goes way back apparently.
12:35- The Jim Mackenzie, Bryan Lerg and Chris Mueller line play strong along the boards and cycle the puck down low. Mueller comes out from the corner and puts a shot on Bishop that bounces into the air. While engaged with a Maine defender Mueller knocks the puck out of midair and in, on his backhand! 2-1 Maine.
11:55- Jeff Lerg still looks shaky as he makes a blocker save but fails to deflect it to the corner as it goes up in the air and on top of the net.
4:19- Melrose has now called Michigan State both North Dakota (who at least is in the other Frozen Four game and is also green & white) and Minnesota. Does anyone really wonder why hockey fans hate ESPN? They barely care about our sport and when they do Barry "I tried to sit Steven Stamkos so I got fired after 10 games" Melrose is their hockey 'expert'? Yeah ESPN can rot in hell.
16:07- Maine is successful on the penalty kill for the 3rd time. They get a 3-on-2 when the player gets out of the box but the redirection of a centering pass is tipped just wide.
11:07-Been a pretty uneventful period but Maine has a great chance robbed by the Spartans' defenseman Ethan Graham. After Jeff Lerg made a save, a Maine player had a wide open net but his shot was tipped at the last second by Graham.
7:11- The overshadowed Tim Crowder almost beats Ben Bishop with a backhand shot on a crease scramble, but BIshop makes a glove save. Can we just take a second and appreciate how awesome that 1st line on this team was? Crowder-Kennedy-Abdelkader was an amazing unit that had so much chemistry and balance.
3:28- MSU comes up ice on a 3-on-2. Chris Snavely passes to Abdelkader as he crosses the blue line, who dops it back to Snavely at the top of the right circle. A one-time shot by Snavely, with Tim Kennedy driving the net hard, beats Bishop to tie the game. 2-2 tie
0:50- Jeff Lerg makes a big save going right to left post after sustained pressure by Maine
16:41- MSU is on the penalty kill and taking pressure from the Black Bears. Jeff Lerg is laid out in his crease and a Maine knucklepuck from the circle hits the crossbar, lands onto Lerg's back and is somehow kept out of the net as Maine players crash looking for the go-ahead goal.
14:49- With momentum from a successful penalty kill, the Spartans take their first lead when Matt Schepke redirects a pass towards Bishop as he crashes the net. Bishop makes the save but is thrown off by a Maine defender who slides into him. Bishop is unable to cover the puck and Nick Sucharski flips the puck into the net. 3-2 Michigan State.
14:15- Jeff Lerg's goal-tending style is so fun to watch. He comes out of a butterfly stance to jump up and make a shoulder save to keep the Spartans in the lead.
10:15- Jim Mackenzie picks off a pass by the Maine blue line and passes across to Chris Mueller. Mueller shoots the puck towards the net and a rebound kicks pack to him. He tries to put the bouncing puck on net but it pops up into the air and to the side where Mackenzie is able to knock the puck out of midair into the net, ripping the sails out of a Maine comeback attempt. 4-2 Michigan State.
7:12- The heart rate is beginning to get fast as Michigan State may be playing for the national championship for the first time since 1986.
5:34- Michigan State is sending one forward on the forecheck and creating a wall in the neutral zone.
1:45- The puck is in the MSU zone and Bishop is somehow still in his net. It's not hard to believe Tim Whitehead is not still the coach at Maine.
1:25- Maine timeout with a face-off coming to Jeff Lerg's right. Ben Bishop is now pulled for the extra attacker.
0:35- The puck is cleared out of the MSU zone and a great shift by Chris Mueller and Jim Mackenzie makes sure that Maine will have no more chances today.
0:00- Michigan State will play for the national championship Saturday night against the winner of Boston College and North Dakota
Next Up: SpartanDan and I will be doing a tandem diary of the 2007 National Championship game to be posted when we can coordinate a time for us to both watch the game. I also plan on posting a review of the 2007 roster and updating on where the last national champion Spartans have ended up their careers sometime next week. Any comments or questions on anything hockey is much appreciated!