Spartan Icers Relish National Title

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- During the Frozen Four, Michigan State players did 21 push-ups before each practice to remind them just how long it had been since the school won its last NCAA hockey championship.
The wait is over. The Spartans, who entered the NCAA tournament as a lightly regarded No. 3 seed in the four-team Midwest Regional, beat favored Boston College 3-1 on Saturday night. Justin Abdelkader got the tie-breaker with 18.9 seconds to go.
"A lot of people questioned us," forward Bryan Lerg said. "This is a big-time hockey team. I've been dreaming about winning this championship ever since my dad laced on my first pair of skates."
Michigan State's first title since 1986 and its third overall came in its first appearance in the title game since 1987. During an up-and-down regular season that included a 1-4-1 dip to end February, senior defenseman Chris Lawrence, the team captain, wrote letters of encouragement to all of his teammates.
"I wrote to Justin that he could be the best player on the ice every night," Lawrence said. "If he realizes his potential, he could dominate. I don't know if he was dominant tonight but he was dominant for the last 18 seconds, and that's good enough for me."
Abdelkader, a second-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings in 2005, beat Boston College goalie Cory Schneider only seconds after ringing a shot off the goal post. Tim Kennedy, who had tied the game at 1 midway through the third, spun away from a defenseman behind the net and fed the puck to Abdelkader in front.
"When you're growing up playing street hockey, you're always scoring the winner for the national championship or the Stanley Cup," Abdelkader said. "I was just in the right place at the right time. It's just awesome."
Goalie Jeff Lerg, whose asthma requires him to get oxygen treatment before games, had a lot to do with it. He made 29 saves, the biggest one coming when he stopped Boston College star Brian Boyle on a 2-on-1 shorthanded break early in the third period to keep it a one-goal deficit until Kennedy got the tying goal about seven minutes later.
"You cannot imagine the inspiration that this kid is," coach Rick Comley said of Jeff Lerg. "There's not a minute on the ice that is easy for him.
"In our locker room we're down 1-0 and he's laughing. Sometimes you just enjoy living, and he does."
Comley got his second national title, previously winning at Northern Michigan in 1991. He's one of three coaches, including Boston College's Jerry York, to win championships at two schools. Comley also won an NAIA title at Lake Superior State.
The Spartans' title drive went right through Boston, including a victory over Boston University in the Midwest Regional semifinals. In the final, they ended Boston College's 13-game winning streak, neutralizing a team that featured 12 NHL draft picks with two first-rounders.
Boston College lost a heartbreaker for the second straight season, after falling 2-1 to Wisconsin in the 2006 championship game.
"They're a very patient team, we knew that coming in," Boston College forward Joe Rooney said. "We felt like we got some chances, but obviously their goaltender is a good goaltender.
"He played pretty well and they got the bounces we didn't."


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