March 18, 2006
CCHA Finals
Throwback Spartans Move Forward
Old-school effort nets Michigan State CCHA playoff title

By Mike Eidelbes

Michigan State 2, Miami 1
Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
1-MS Justin Abdelkader (10) PP
14:13 T. Crowder, T. Kennedy
1-MIA Ryan Jones (22) EV
14:33 A. Martinez

Second Period

2-MS David Booth (13) EV
5:52 J. McKenzie, D. Miller
Third Period
No Scoring
MS: Jeff Lerg, 60:00, 22 saves, 1 GA
MIA: Jeff Zatkoff, 59:24, 32 saves, 2 GA
Penalties: MS 3/6; MIA 6/12
Power Plays: MS 1-6; MIA 0-3
Attendance: 16,234
All-Tournament Team
G: Jeff Lerg, Michigan State (MVP)
D: Andy Greene, Miami
D: Matt Hunwick, Michigan
F: Tim Crowder, Michigan State
F: Ryan Jones, Miami
F: Drew Miller, Michigan State

You probably already know this, but Rick Comley is the head coach at Michigan State. If you didn’t know any better, however, you could’ve sworn it was a Ron Mason-led hockey team that won the school’s first CCHA playoff championship in five years.

Mason’s teams were known for stifling defense, solid goaltending and exceptional special-teams play, a formula that worked to near perfection in the Spartans’ 2-1 win over conference regular-season champion Miami in front of 16,234 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit Saturday. The RedHawks mustered just 23 shots, of which all but one were stopped by freshman goaltender Jeff Lerg, and failed to score on its three power-play opportunities of the night.

“It might have been the best defensive effort of the season,” said Lerg, who was named tournament MVP. “All I had to do was make the saves, control the rebounds and minimize second and third opportunities.”

MSU opened the scoring when freshman forward Justin Abdelkader recorded his 10th goal of the season on the Spartans’ first power-play chance of the game. The RedHawks responded 20 seconds later, converting off Lerg’s lone miscue of the night. Alec Martinez ripped a shot from just inside the blue line that Lerg stopped, but he couldn’t control the rebound and the puck kicked to Ryan Jones, who stuffed it in for his 22nd goal.

Senior David Booth notched the eventual game-winner for MSU on a rebound goal of his own 5:52 into the second period, easily tapping the carom off a Jim McKenzie shot past Miami goalie Jeff Zatkoff for his 13th goal.

The remainder of the game belonged to Lerg and the Spartans’ defense, which limited the RedHawks to 12 shots in the final two periods after getting 11 shots on goal in the first period. MSU thoroughly frustrated Miami as it attempted to get the game-tying goal, making it difficult for the RedHawk attack to get through the neutral zone with any speed or rhythm.

INCH's Three Stars of the
3. Ryan Jones, Miami
Scored a goal in each of the RedHawks' games at the Joe, pushing his team-leading total to 22.

2. Tim Crowder, Michigan State
Followed Friday's two-goal performance against Michigan with an assist in Saturday's championship game win.

1. Jeff Lerg, Michigan State
It's no coincidence that the Spartans' season did a 180 when Lerg took over as the no. 1 goaltender. He's the first freshman named CCHA Tournament MVP since former MSU backstop Ryan Miller in 2000.

"They executed when they had to and made the plays," Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. "We...have nothing to hang our heads about."

“Defense wins championships,” Lerg said. “We knew we were a good team and we’ve been in a lot of close games. I would say our confidence is at a high, but we’re not overconfident by any means.”

Besides failing to win its first CCHA postseason title, the loss to Michigan State likely dropped Miami from a no. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament to a no. 2. The Spartans, meanwhile, probably earned a top seed with the win – their most logical destination appears to be the East Regional in Albany, N.Y.

“We knew the no. 1 seed was there,” Lerg said. “It was in the back of our minds, but we wanted to win the championship just to win the championship. This is the reason I came to Michigan State – to win championships.”


Michigan 3, Northern Michigan 2
Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
1-NM Matt Ciancio (1) EV
5:30 B. Selden
1-UM Matt Hunwick (10) PP
10:54 T.J. Hensick, N. Ruden

Second Period

2-UM T.J. Hensick (17) EV
16:01 K. Porter
2-NM Darin Olver (15) EV
16:16 P. Bateman, M. Santorelli
Third Period
4-UM Matt Hunwick EV
8:19 B. Kaleniecki, A. Ebbett
NM: Bill Zaniboni, 58:30, 39 saves, 3 GA
UM: Noah Ruden, 60:00, 29 saves, 2 GA
Penalties: NM 7/14; UM 7/14
Power Plays: NM 0-3; UM 1-3

Junior defenseman Matt Hunwick scored two goals – including the game-winner 8:19 into the third period – as Michigan salvaged its trip to the CCHA Tournament with a 3-2 win over Northern Michigan in the consolation game at Joe Louis Arena.

Hunwick's first score was a power-play marker midway through the first period set up by forward T.J. Hensick. That goal came a little more than five minutes after Matt Ciancio gave the Wildcats a 1-0 lead 5:30 into the period with his first goal of the season.

Hensick scored off an assist from Kevin Porter with 3:59 remaining in the second period to give the Wolverines their first lead of the game. It was a short-lived advantage, however, as Northern Michigan forward Darin Olver answered Hensick's tally with a goal of his own – his 15th of the season – just 15 seconds later.

Michigan's Noah Ruden made 29 saves to earn the win. NMU's Bill Zaniboni turned aside 39 shots in a losing effort.


Assuming the NCAA Tournament selection committee bases its decisions on who gets into the field and who doesn't strictly on computer-generated data, the CCHA stands to comprise one-fourth of the event – Michigan State would be the fourth no. 1 seed and play in Albany, Miami drops down to a no. 2 seed would most likely end up in Worcester. Michigan is a probable no. 3 seed, and it's a good bet the Wolverines end up in the Midwest or West Regional. Nebraska-Omaha, which could end up being one of the most controversial selections in tournament history if the Mavs get the nod, is probably headed to Worcester as a no. 4 seed.