Sunday, September 27, 2020

Great moments in MSU sports history: 2007 hockey national championship

March 23, 2020
Despite his team being ahead, then-coach Rick Comley remains composed as his players score three goals in the first period Feb. 12, 2011 at Munn Ice Arena. State News file photo. Design by Daena Faustino.
Despite his team being ahead, then-coach Rick Comley remains composed as his players score three goals in the first period Feb. 12, 2011 at Munn Ice Arena. State News file photo. Design by Daena Faustino. —

Michigan State has canceled all sports activities as our community deals with the COVID-19 crisis. In a time when sports have ceased, The State News is looking back at great moments in MSU sports history. Soon, we’ll be back to a world with sports, but for now, the past will have to do.

Today, we’ll be looking at Michigan State hockey’s run at a national championship in 2007.

We'll be compiling these moments into a bracket with the MSU community voting on the best one, starting on April 1, via Twitter.

Today, we'll be looking at the greatest modern moment in Spartan ice hockey history: the 2007 national championship victory.

Date: April 7, 2007.

Venue: Scottrade Center, St. Louis, Missouri.

Matchup: Michigan State (10-seed) vs. Boston College (8-seed).

The background: Rick Comley took over for legendary coach Ron Mason prior to the 2002-03 season, and enjoyed a nice run of his own as the leader of Spartan hockey. Coming into the 2006-07 season, Comley had already stockpiled a 91-60-16 record, including two trips to the NCAA tournament.

The ‘07 team featured stars such as current Detroit Red Wings forward Justin Abdelkader and goaltender Jeff Lerg, who started all 42 games for the Spartans. Lerg’s brother, Bryan, led the green and white with 23 goals.

Coming off of a crushing defeat in the NCAA East Regional Final the year prior, and with a solid core of players returning, the Spartans were ready to make noise as the season got underway. The team would finish the year at 27-14-3, earning them their most wins to date under Comley and the 10th seed in the 16-team NCAA tournament.

MSU was placed in the Midwest region along with Alabama-Huntsville, Boston University and No. 2-seeded Notre Dame. The Spartans took down BU 5-1 in the regional semifinal, followed up with a 2-1 upset victory over the Fighting Irish in the regional final.

The two wins propelled the Spartans to their 11th Frozen Four in program history and first appearance since 2001. The green and white took down Maine 4-2 in the national semifinals, setting up an anticipated matchup with Boston College for all the marbles.

The game: The game itself featured little offense for the first 50 minutes or so, with both teams tightening up defensively and waiting for the other to make a mistake.

The Eagles cracked open the scoring 6:50 into the second period, when current Florida Panther Brian Boyle tucked one past Lerg to give BC a 1-0 advantage.

It wouldn’t be until midway through the third period when the Spartans would finally tie the game up. The momentum shifted once Tim Kennedy buried a power play goal to knot things up 1-1, setting the stage for Abdelkader’s career-defining moment as a Spartan.

With 30 seconds remaining in the game, MSU forced a turnover in their defensive zone, resulting in a 3-on-1 going the other way. Abdelkader carried the puck in the offensive zone, quickly firing a shot that deflected off the crossbar.

Kennedy retrieved the puck behind the net and immediately fed a pass to Abdelkader in front, who put home the one-timer to give the Spartans a 2-1 lead with 18.9 seconds to go.

Chris Mueller tacked on an empty-net goal shortly after, securing the win for Comley and his team. Abdelkader was named MVP of the Frozen Four for his heroics.

National champions.

The aftermath: Comley got the green and white back to the NCAA tournament the following season, only to fall in the West Regional Final. Following that season, the team experienced two losing campaigns between 2008 and 2011.

At the conclusion of the 2010-11 season, Comley retired and was replaced by Tom Anastos. Besides an NCAA tournament appearance in his first season, Anastos’ tenure was ultimately underwhelming, leading to his resignation in 2017.

Anastos was replaced by Danton Cole, who just completed his third season at the helm. Despite his 39-60-9 record, Cole is optimistic about the direction of the program and the team has improved in each of his three years.

Munn Ice Arena is set to undergo major renovations that are projected to be finished in December 2020, which should, Cole hopes, help restore the glory days for MSU hockey.

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