BOWLING GREEN, Ohio - The top-ranked Spartan hockey team had to struggle for everything it accomplished this weekend in Bowling Green.
The Spartans (11-1-3 overall, 8-1-2 CCHA) were able to extend their unbeaten streak to 12 (10-0-2) and earn three points in their first CCHA road series since Oct. 26-27, but it wasnt easy.
The lowly Falcons (2-8-4, 2-6-4) jumped to an early lead in both games before MSU showed the composure of a No. 1 team and battled back for a 3-3 tie Friday night and a 3-1 win Saturday at BGSU Ice Arena.
The mental toughness on this team is like nothing Ive ever seen, junior right wing Adam Hall said. The guys showed a lot of resilience tonight.
I kind of tensed up a little bit after that first goal. It seemed like we just couldnt get any bounces this weekend.
Many college hockey experts warned of a potential letdown for the Spartans after completing a November schedule that featured six ranked teams in seven games. MSU beat then-No. 2 Minnesota and then-No. 12 Wisconsin in the annual College Hockey Showcase last weekend.
I think we handled the letdown well, MSU sophomore goaltender Ryan Miller said Saturday. Its tough to come off the Showcase weekend, but were still in first and thats whats important.
After falling behind 2-0 Friday night, the Spartans found themselves in a 1-0 hole 1:56 into Saturdays game as the Falcons converted on a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush.
Falcon left wing Tyler Knight and center Mark Wires seized an opportunity when MSU senior right wing Rustyn Dolyny couldnt keep the puck in the Falcon zone at the blue line.
With Knight streaking down ice with the puck, sophomore defenseman John-Michael Liles slid to take away the crossing pass, but Knight managed to find Wires who roofed a wrist shot over Miller.
(Knight) made a nice play to hold on to it and (Wires) held on to it and made me stretch out, Miller said.
But the top-ranked Spartans didnt panic - they looked to their leaders to bring them back.
MSUs four offensive stars led the comeback charge, combining for seven points in the game. Hall, Dolyny, freshman center Jeremy Jackson and sophomore left wing Brian Maloney have combined for 68 points (53 percent of MSUs offense) this season.
Hall scored at the end of the first period, and Jackson and Maloney both scored in the second to lift the Spartans to victory. Dolyny assisted on all three goals.
MSU head coach Ron Mason said hes happy taking three points back to East Lansing after settling for a tie the first game.
This was a good win especially after the way the game started, Mason said Saturday. The puck hits the official, bounces over a stick and they go down and get a short-handed goal. (Bowling Green) put up a really good effort.
In the series opener, Bowling Green found holes in the Spartans CCHA-leading penalty killing unit and jumped to an early lead on two power play goals in the first six minutes of the game.
Left wings Curtis Valentine and Ryan Murphy beat Miller 1:09 apart and the Falcons took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission despite being outshot 14-7.
We shot ourselves in the foot in the first five minutes by taking unnecessary penalties, Mason said. We gave Bowling Green momentum, which is one thing we did not want to do. You dont even have your feet under you when youre down two men that early.
MSU showed its poise and rattled off three consecutive goals to take the lead in the third period.
MSU had a couple of chances to put the game away, including senior left wing Sean Patchell ringing a shot off the post on a power play with 7:40 left in the game.
But Falcon right wing Ryan Fultz tied the game with a goal off a rebound at 15:05 of the final frame to secure the draw.
A one-goal lead is never safe, but Im comfortable with Ryan Miller in net, Dolyny said. We played the majority of the game the way we wanted to play, it was just a matter of five or six minutes where we took a couple of penalties.
Maybe we were trying to get too much too early and it backfired on us.