GVSU Division III hockey falls in second round of MCHC playoffs

Lakers top Michigan State, lose to top-seeded Calvin College

By Alex Eisen | 2/14/16 9:21pm

GVL / Kevin Sielaff - Danny Smith (3) reaches for the puck along with an MSU defenseman. The Lakers’ D3 men’s hockey team blows out Michigan State at Eagle Ice Center in Grand Rapids on Friday, February 12, 2016.
by Kevin Sielaff and Kevin Sielaff / The Lanthorn

Sometimes, a harsh dose of reality is necessary.

The Grand Valley State Division III men’s hockey club got exactly that on Feb. 12 in the first round of the Michigan Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs against Michigan State.

In the locker room preparing for the third period, the fourth-seeded Lakers (22-9-2) got chastised after allowing the defending American Collegiate Hockey Association national champions and fifth-seeded Spartans (14-15-1) to draw even at 3-3 with 46 seconds left in the second period.

“They told us we had the worst period we have ever played in the second,” said senior Zach Nash. “They said we better pick it up and have the best period we have ever played and I think we did.”

GVSU exploded for five goals in third period to knock off MSU, 8-3, and advance to the next round against top-seeded Calvin College (21-6-1) on Saturday where the Lakers came to a much different realization – inspirational pep talks weren’t going to save them this time.

The Knights, sporting fresh legs and home ice at the Eagles Ice Center in Grand Rapids, eliminated the Lakers in the second round, 5-1.

“(Yesterday) most of us didn’t get home until one in the morning,” said GVSU head coach Charlie Link. “It’s a quick turnaround and tough to play a team like that not rested.”

In the opening league playoff game against MSU, Laker junior Tyler Stoller set the tone early by smashing the puck in off the inside of the post for GVSU’s first goal 2:24 into the game.

Sophomore goaltender Jack Lindsay preserved the Lakers' lead for as long as he could. But even after a handful of superb Lindsay saves, the Spartans seized control of the game with a pair of goals near the end of the period: a cross-crease tap-in and a costly defensive miscue that gifted MSU a goal.

“In both the first and second periods, Jack (Lindsay) kept us in the game,” Link said.

From bad to worse, minutes into the second period sophomore Alex Bjork suffered a mild concussion after getting crunched head-first into the boards. No penalty was called. Bjork skated off under his own will-power, but remained sidelined for the rest of the weekend.

The Lakers were assessed a two-minute hooking penalty shortly after the dazing hit. Instead of getting frustrated with the officials, GVSU regrouped with a short-handed goal from senior Zach Nash.

The Lakers regained the lead later in the period on a power play goal by freshman Nick Pratt (8:46), but they would relinquish their one-goal advantage moments before heading into the locker room for the second intermission on a two-on-one MSU breakout.

Fired up for the final frame, the Lakers lit up the scoreboard to put the Spartans away.

“We came around in the third (period) and scored a lot,” Nash said. “The team looked really fast in the third and everything was just connecting.”

The five-goal barrage started when Nash hit the back of the net from the slot (2:36) for his second goal of the game. Freshman Dan Smith followed on a wrap-around (4:56) and then hit the repeat button by going behind the net again to beat the goaltender with 10:49 left in regulation.

“The goalie was coming out a little bit too much and I took advantage of that. A little patience and I wrapped it,” Smith said.

Smith grabbed his hat-trick goal four minutes later, and 17 seconds after that Stoller closed out the scoring to end the outpouring at 8-3.

The Lakers could have used some of those extra goals in the Feb. 13 game against Calvin College. The Knights, who rested Friday night with a first round bye, looked faster, sharper and more physical from the opening puck drop.

Laker goaltender Chancellor Boutin did his best to mimic Lindsay’s performance from the night before to keep the Lakers afloat. After the first period, GVSU trailed by a goal due to an early Calvin College strike.

Unable to get anything going through 20 minutes, the Lakers finally got a bounce to go their way. Pratt, positioned perfectly in front of the net, located the puck in a scrum and banged home the equalizer 17 seconds into the second period.

The excitement didn’t last long. The Knights capitalized on a bad Laker line change at 3:49, used the springy end-boards to perfection at 15:01 and, for good measure, added one more at 17:40 to go into the second intermission leading 4-1.

Needing another high-scoring third period, GVSU had nothing left to give as scoring chances were few and far between. Calvin College buried the dagger with 13:48 left to claim the 5-1 victory.

The Lakers play in the ACHA Regional Tournament next weekend in Farmington Hills, Michigan.

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