"Unbelievable Feeling" as Spartans Win CCHA

Michigan State rode the hot goaltending of Jeff Lerg, and played solid team defense to lead the Spartans to a victory over the Miami Redhawks to win the CCHA Championship and the Mason Cup.

OKEMOS,MI-Michigan State goalie Jeff Lerg stopped one shot after another, and MSU played solid team defense to win the CCHA Championship with a 2-1 victory over the Miami Redhawks. As goalie Jeff Lerg would say later, it was an 'unbelievable feeling' for Spartans everywhere.

The victory likely gives MSU a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The game featured an up and down game with solid goaltending on both sides, good defense, and hard hits all over the ice, and was everything you might expect in a Championship game.

The first period began with Miami's Nino Musitelli getting the first chance on goal when he walked in on MSU's Lerg, but his shot found the side of the net.

MSU countered with a blistering slap shot from Colton Fretter that was stopped by Miami Goaltender Jeff Zatkoff.

MSU's Jared Nightingale later drove a shot that Zatkoff made a stick save on, and the Spartans Drew Miller also threw a back hand on goal that Zatkoff reacted quickly on to keep the game scoreless.

Miami then put some pressure on, and luckily for MSU, Chris Snavely knocked away a puck from a Miami rush that would have been a golden opportunity for the Redhawks.

Shortly after, Miami got the puck again, and Lerg made a right pad save from point blank to keep the game scoreless.

MSU had a wrap-around attempt miss, and Colton Fretter was frustrated again in yet another attempt by the Spartans.

Justin Abdelkader, who was all over the the ice for the Spartans, then laid a huge hit on Miami's Mitch Ganzak and knocked him out for much of the game.

Finally, MSU drew a penalty on Miami's Matt Davis, one of their top defensive forwards. Zatkoff then stopped David Booth on an outstanding kick save. But a short time later, Tim Crowder was able to kick the puck toward Abdelkader who lifted the puck to the high glove side of Zatkoff as Abdelkader was falling to his right to give MSU a 1-0 lead.

That lead would be short-lived however as Miami's Ryan Jones scored just 20 seconds later to knot the score at 1-1.

Miami flipped a high shot on net from inside the blue line that fell against and in front of Spartan goalie Lerg, and as Lerg went to cover up, MSU defenseman Jared Nightingale inexplicably tried to clear the puck with his stick instead of putting a body on Jones. Jones was then able to lay his stick on the puck and slide it past Lerg to tie the score at one goal a piece.

With Miami having momentum, MSU's David Booth got called for tripping. Ryan Jones then walked in on a breakaway, but Lerg was up to the task this time and MSU killed the power play off.

MSU later had a four on two break but some good chances by Colton Fretter once again wouldn't materialize for the green and white and the period ended.

MSU started to put more pressure on Miami to begin the second period, as MSU's Corey Potter walked in on a three on one break but was turned away.

MSU continued to pressure and Marty Guerin took a hooking penalty for the Redhawks, but once again MSU came up short.

Finally, the Spartans Jim McKenzie wristed a shot near the right face off circle that found Zatkoff, but David Booth scored on the rebound to give MSU the 2-1 lead that they would not relinquish.

Even with a lead, MSU continued to take the play to Miami, with Chris Mueller just missing on two power play chances.

MSU once again nearly had a goal on yet another power play a short time later, as David Booth missed inside of 5 minutes to go in the second period on a solid chance that would not go in.

Corey Potter was then called for hooking, and the second period ended with Miami holding a man advantage.

However, to start the third period, you would have thought that the Spartans had the man advantage with the pressure they continued to apply.

First, Ethan Graham laid a shot on net that Zatkoff nearly misplayed into a goal. Then Miami's Andy Greene did a nice recovery job on Abdelkader who was streaking to the net in a golden opportunity for MSU.

Musitelli countered for Miami with a blistering slap shot from the left slot that Lerg made a glove save on to keep MSU in front.

MSU then streaked toward the Miami end, and Chris Mueller missed just wide, and Jim McKenzie was also thwarted on a kick save by Zatkoff.

The pressure on Zatkoff continued as Miami drew two more penalties to give MSU a five on three situation for thirteen seconds. But David Booth's laser shot was off and the Redhawks stayed alive by killing those penalties.

MSU's Brian Lerg then stole the puck on a turnover near the Redhawk blue line but MSU was rejected in yet another great chance.

The Spartans Chris Lawrence then hand-cuffed Zatkoff with a shot but luck was on the side of the Redhawks as it hit the goalies belly.

As the game wore down, MSU defensemen continued to shine as they dove on the ice and gave up their bodies to block shot after shot in fighting for a championship.

Miami pulled Zatkoff in the closing moments, and called a timeout, but could not get the equalizer and the Spartans walked away with the 2-1 victory and the CCHA Championship.

Rick Comley who hasn't won a CCHA title since 1981 said, "I hope I don't have to wait another 25 years to win another."

Comley added, "We have a proud program with a strong shadow, we expect to win championships here and we did."

Comley added this about goaltender Jeff Lerg, "That guy is special."

Making the All-Tournament Team for MSU were Drew Miller, Tim Crowder, and goalie Jeff Lerg, who also was named MVP for the Tournament.

Lerg stopped 22 shots tonight, and made 47 saves in two days to win MVP honors. Lerg had this to say, "This is an unbelievable feeling, many doubted us, but we turned it on in the last half of the season and good things happened. This is like a dream come true."

Lerg added, "We have had good leadership all year and we just turned it on in the second half othe season."

Colton Fretter was giddy in his thoughts as well, "It feels great, some of us struggled for three years and to have this happen in my senior year is simply amazing."

Fretter continued, "We are a solid team-defense, goaltending, forwards, everything."

MSU won its record 11th CCHA Championship, and now has 77 wins in Tournament play, most in CCHA history. They have appeared in 15 CCHA Championships overall.

The Spartans move to 24-11-8 on the year while Miami drops to 26-8-4.

GSN will have more MSU hockey coverage as they prepare for the NCAA Tournament, so stayed tuned.

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