Unlikely champions find unique path to the goal
Chris Lawrence's impact on Saturday night's game isn't easily measured by stats. But the Spartans senior provided the inspiration for Michigan State's championship run, writes David Albright.
ST. LOUIS -- An hour after the final horn, Chris Lawrence was still dressed head to skates in his road green uniform.
But instead of a stick, the Michigan State captain was clutching the 2007 national championship hockey trophy.
The Spartans defied the odds -- for better than a month in the postseason -- and continued to play their game against all comers and amid all criticism. The No. 3 seed and unlikeliest team from this year's Frozen Four finished it off with a 3-1 win over Boston College in front of an NCAA record crowd of 19,432 at the Scottrade Center.
It also gave Lawrence the greatest going away present of all time.
You see, there isn't much interest from the next level in a fourth-line winger with five goals in 106 career games.
So Saturday night was a curtain call for the Spartan senior.
"I'm kind of embarrassed to admit it, but I was in tears before the game because I knew it was my last game," Lawrence said. "When we got to the rink I sat down at my stall, it hit me and I started bawling. You never quite know for sure when you're going to play your last game but I knew tonight, no matter what, was my last game of hockey.
"What a way to go out."
In addition to the pregame tears, Lawrence also vomited and nearly forgot to tape his stick before taking the ice. But somehow he got himself together and helped lead his team to a most improbable victory.
Boston College (29-12-1) came in flying.
The Eagles had won 13 straight games (the last loss coming way back on Feb. 12), and had little trouble doing so. During that stretch, BC had outscored its opponents 61-23 and nine of the 13 victories were by three or more goals.
The power play came in hitting at ridiculous rate (35.6 percent), while the penalty kill had only given up seven goals in 69 attempts.
So with an offense that seemed to invent new cylinders and a goaltender in Cory Schneider who was only giving up 1.79 goals with a .940 save percentage, it wasn't a question of whether BC would win, but rather by how many goals.
Until Sparty spoiled the party.
The Eagles, back for a return trip to the Frozen Four and trying to avenge last year's title-game loss to Wisconsin, found themselves in a tighter game than they would have liked.
Michigan State needed to control the tempo and physicality of the game. Other than the first period, when BC outshot the Spartans 13-6, they did so.
After a scoreless first, the Spartans got themselves into some trouble with back-to-back penalties. The second created 35 seconds of 5-on-3 for BC, but the Eagles couldn't convert with the two-man advantage.
But with just 10 seconds left on the second penalty, BC's Nathan Gerbe kept the puck alive along the boards and Brock Bradford picked up the loose puck and sent a shot on Spartans goalie Jeff Lerg from the left circle. It deflected off Brian Boyle's stick and beat Lerg high to the glove side to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead.
With Michigan State on the power play, BC found itself with a 2-on-1 breakaway. Joe Rooney skated up the left side, waited for Boyle to join him on the right and then sent a pass across the slot for a one-timer by Boyle.
Lerg, who more than makes up for his lack of size (5-foot-6) with quickness, anticipated the pass and went to his left in time to snare the puck out of the air from a prone position.
"If that goes in, it would have been 2-0," BC coach Jerry York said. "That was a key to the game. It was a terrific save by Lerg."
And it changed the momentum of the game.
"I was pretty fired up when I made it," Lerg said. "I usually don't show that much emotion when I make a save, but I thought that we'd come back and win after that."
And the rest of the way, the ice seemed to tilt ever-so-slightly in Michigan State's favor.
The Spartans got the tying goal when Tim Kennedy, who missed some time in the first after he was kneed in the head, cheated a little on a faceoff just outside the BC blue line. The puck took a funny bounce and found its way to Kennedy, who walked around Boyle and beat Schneider high to the stick side with a little help from the left post.
The right post played a role in the game-winner.
Justin Abdelkader found himself on a 3-on-1 break as he carried the puck down the right side. His wrister hit the right post behind Schneider and bounced back around the right boards, where Tyler Howells collected it and sent it back behind the net.
From there, Kennedy gathered it just ahead of Dan Bertram and found Abdelkader making his way down the slot.
"Timmy made an unbelievable play," Abdelkader said. "He is so shifty down low and he can cut back and find me in the slot. I knew once he made the first cut and got by the defenseman that I just had to find the open spot in the slot.
"He made a perfect pass and I was fortunate it went it."
At 19:41 of the third, it was the latest regulation game-winning goal in NCAA championship game history.
Chris Mueller added an empty-netter at 19:58 that started a glove- and stick-flying premature celebration.
Rather than collect the equipment and play the final 1.7 seconds, York conceded and the celebration continued from St. Louis all the way back to East Lansing.
"That's what happens when you play sports," York said. "There is going to be a winner and there is going to be a loser. You try as hard as you can, but there is no guarantee in this business."
After a stinging 2-1 home loss to Bowling Green to end the regular season on a 1-4-1 swoon, Lawrence penned a handwritten letter to each teammate.
"I was thinking of ways to turn things around because we were kind of down," Lawrence said. "I wrote a page to each guy saying what they meant to the team and what they could do going in [to the playoffs]."
Whatever he wrote, it worked.
From that point, Michigan State went 7-1 down the stretch, the lone loss coming against Michigan in the CCHA semifinals. But the Spartans will gladly trade that game for the national championship -- the first from the CCHA since the Wolverines beat BC in 1998.
"The word I've used all year is resilient," Comley said. "It's not the parts, but the sum of the parts.
"We're a target at times because maybe we haven't been as good as people wanted us to be, but I know we're going home with a pretty nice trophy."
If the captain will ever let it go.
David Albright is the senior coordinator for college sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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