Spartan sweep a lesson in pest control

Brett Beier/Kalamazoo Gazette

Have you ever watched an ant buzz along the baseboard of your bathroom? Down the stretch it goes, its little legs scrambling freely until the
bathtub closes in on the left to form a sudden dead end.  The ant
pauses, backs up, circles, and tries again.  Nothing.  Trapped.
It could go left — back out into the open –
but that’s dangerous and clogged with
foot traffic.
 So it tries the perimeter
again.  And the bathtub steers
it right again 
until there’s
no more room
 to run.

(DUMP IN)

Anyone looking for an answer for why Michigan State swept the soon-to-be-lower-than-fifth-ranked Broncos this weekend need look no further than the neutral zone,
which the Spartans remodeled to their specifications again during a 4-2 victory
Saturday that brought BroncoLand back
to reality.

(BODYCHECK, TURNOVER)

State drywalled a diagonal line of defense from blue line to blue line that forced the Broncos along the perimeter 
and pinched
them off at the far blue-line point of attack. Like the
mighty ants that could, WMU’s forwards 
scrambled
up the boards with the puck over and over, trying
to out-skate the green tidal wave.  But on the
rare occasion a Bronco beat it, he was left
stranded as the Spartans flooded
the zone around him, swallowed
possession of the puck and spit
it back out.
 And when the
Broncos managed decent
scoring chances, 
that big
lug of a Spartan goalie
Will Yanakeff 
guarded
the net like a
drain plug.

(NEXT!)

Now, I don’t know enough about coaching to say Tom Anastos out-coached Andy Murray, but damn Anastos had a pretty rockin’ system.  And his players executed it to perfection.

“We are a team that has to be at 100 percent to have a chance, especially in this league, and this weekend – tonight, especially – we weren’t,” Murray said on WKZO afterwards.

Certainly, Murray probably saw things about his team few others could.  But from an armchair perspective, the Broncos didn’t lack effort (always an easy-to-spot excuse for a loss).  If anything, they might have been too aggressive.  Perhaps they could have been more patient instead of repeatedly trying to ram the puck through the drywall like they were attached to Bubble Hockey skewers?  Then again, when they tried to play a cross-ice game, the Chinese handcuffs just got tighter.

Which begs a question: how the hell was Michigan State 4-4 heading into this weekend?

Parting shots

  • Murray inserted forward Kyle O’Kane into the lineup and he had a brilliant game, capped off by a third-period rebound goal to cut the Spartans’ lead to 3-2 with ten minutes left.
  • Credit freshman forward Justin Kovacs on the play — his ability to rag the puck behind the net with two Spartans draped all over him set up O’Kane’s finish.
  • Broncos goaltender Nick Pisellini made a pair of dazzling stops with the game close, but was wildly out of position on two goals that killed third-period momentum the Broncos built
  • Jake Chelios, the son of you-know-who, has his father’s swagger but not much else.  He was lucky that a holding penalty he committed as O’Kane scored didn’t cost his team, and while he fit into MSU’s system, he certainly didn’t stand out aside from his post-whistle antics.
  • Murray hosts a team dinner at his house today and the team has just a day of practice before traveling to South Bend for a rare Tuesday game against Notre Dame.
  • Former Bronco and current Chicago Blackhawks grinder Jamal Mayers was in attendance — and he’s a big fan of Andy Murray’s.  When WMU was in search of Jeff Blashill’s replacement, Mayers called athletic director Kathy Beauregard and told her if Murray belongs anywhere, it’s in the college game because of motivational tactics like leaving notes for players in their lockers — stuff that might not stick with an NHL ego but can really lift a college kid.

Michigan State 3, WMU 2: Thoughts

Brett Beier/Kalamazoo Gazette

  • After being the underdog in games like this for years, the fifth-ranked Broncos now must realize what it feels like to be hunted.  Michigan State is unranked and has underachieved — and looked like a team with nothing to lose Friday night.  Or are the Spartans really underdogs?  Broncos coach Andy Murray told the Kalamazoo Gazette before Friday’s game:“They’ve got us ranked fairly high, but I’ve yet to determine if we’re ranked that high within our own state because we haven’t played Michigan State yet and we haven’t played Lake Superior State (first-place in the CCHA), we haven’t played Ferris State yet and Notre Dame is pretty close and we haven’t played them.”
  • To Murray’s point, Friday’s loss dropped the Broncos into a three-way tie for third-place with Notre Dame and Ohio State.
  • Shots Friday were 40-16 WMU, but most came from the perimeter.  The Spartans cleared the front of the net well and did not allow the Broncos to pounce on quality second-chances.  More than once, the puck careened off MSU goaltender Will Yanakeff and spun in the crease untouched while MSU defenders used textbook basketball-like boxouts to pin Western’s forwards to the outside.
  • Western shooters also missed the net a lot (perhaps trying to pick corners out of frustration?).
  • Yanakeff, the game’s first star, outplayed Western’s Nick Pisellini — but not just because his pads have more rubber marks.  When it came to timely saves, Yanakeff made them and Pisellini did not.  The Mike Merrifield breakaway five-hole goal with less than three minutes to play in the second period was the backbreaker, both on the scoreboard and in terms of momentum.
  • But let’s not forget WMU forward Chase Balisy triggered it with a neutral-zone turnover.
  • Friday’s attendance: 4,052.  Friday’s attendance at Wings Stadium for the K-Wings and Trenton: 4,088.  Mix in people watching the Red Wings-Oilers on television at home or in bars and tell me Kalamazoo isn’t a hockey town.
  • Post-game quotes can often be trite, cliche and reveal little about what really happened and how a team truly feels.  But at least with Andy Murray we get the truth when his team doesn’t play well, instead of a sugar-coated “Aw, shucks, the boys played hard.”  From the Kalamazoo Gazette:“They beat us on the scoreboard, the most important statistic,” WMU coach Andy Murray said. “They came in with a good game plan. We didn’t play as well as we needed to in certain accountable situations during the game.” … “We made mistakes and the puck ended up in the back of our net. Any time you touch the puck, it could be a game-deciding situation. A few times we didn’t manage the puck very well and didn’t do what we were supposed to do.”
  • Credit to Tom Anastos: It was a collective head-scratcher when MSU named the CCHA commissioner head coach this summer.  But Anastos, an accomplished hockey man whom The Sporting News has ranked in the Top 100 most influential hockey people multiple times, clearly knows how to coach.  He beat a veteran NHL head coach with a forecheck that made it look as if there were eight Spartans against five Broncos.  And his presence behind the bench was smooth and confident.
  • Here’s hoping the Broncos go with the home white jerseys again tonight instead of the putrid gold ones.  Are those still around?