Sunday, April 08, 2007

Michigan State University . . . National Champions

Take that, Boston College . . . and Maine . . . and Notre Dame . . . and for good measure, you too, Meeeechigan.

The Green and White are national champions of NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey, a product of one of the more thrilling finishes to a final one would ever want to see – a 3-1 victory over a high-octane Boston College Golden Eagles squad last night in St. Louis.

It’s been 21 years since the last MSU ice hockey championship – 1986 against Harvard in the final – and this has to be among the more satisfying championships in any Spartan team sport. The program has struggled – comparatively speaking – since coach Ron Mason was kicked upstairs to the AD’s chair. Rick Comley – no slouch as a coach himself (he has a national championship as coach of Northern Michigan in 1991 and nine Hobey Baker finalists to his credit) – has been the target of much grumbling among the Spartan faithful . . . well, gee, The Peerless doesn’t understand why there should be any pressure on a guy who is replacing a coach for whom the Central Collegiate Hockey Association’s championship trophy is named, one who is still his boss.

MSU became the second three-seed to play in a national final (Boston College was the first, last year) and the first to take home the trophy. Figures. The Spartans are as lunch-pail a group as there is in collegiate hockey, one built on the pillars of sturdy defense and goaltending. And what a story the goaltending is. Jeff Lerg – 5’6”, 155 pounds (all of it heart) – begins each game day by dilating his lungs, he being asthmatic. Then he straps on the equipment that makes him look more “mite” than “mighty.” But at the end of the day – or in this case, three days and two games – Lerg gave up three goals on 58 shots in 120 minutes. Lerg is the latest in a line of superb goaltenders for the Spartans, none greater than Ryan Miller – a Hobey Baker winner with a record of 73-19-12, 1.54, .941 in three years at MSU. But Lerg has something Miller never earned at State – a championship.

The Spartans fell behind in both games of the Frozen Four tournament, but as has been the case all year for a team that was largely an afterthought in the CCHA and in the NCAA tournament, they plugged along. Falling behind to the arguably more talented Golden Eagles in the final, MSU scratched back with a tying goal from Tim Kennedy at 9:53 of the third. But Kennedy was just warming up. With the clock winding down and overtime looming, Justin Abdelkader rang the puck off the post behind BC netminder Cory Schneider. Eventually the puck found its way behind the Eagles’ net, and Kennedy won his battle against a BC defender, spinning to steer the puck in front. Abdelkader wouldn’t be denied this time, snapping the puck past Schneider with 18.9 seconds left and setting off a Spartan celebration – how ironic that a Boston team was undone by a Kennedy.

An empty net goal with two ticks left was the icing on the cake. A club that finished fourth in its own conference, one that was eliminated in the conference tournament semi-final, without a single all-conference player, one that was thought to have a gift in being named to the national tournament, one that if they won would do so with the worst record for a champion in more than 25 years, plugged along and won the prize.

It’s good to be a Spartan this morning…

photos: Tom Gannam/AP, Dale G. Young/Detroit News

1 comment:

C$ said...

I didn't care who won, as long as it wasn't BC.

Some day BU will make it past the first round and not looooooose horribly....some day!