EAST LANSING – Jeff Lerg probably wouldn’t mind forgetting the last time he stood between the pipes opposite maize-and-blue winged helmets last season.
In that game, the semifinal of the CCHA tournament last March, Michigan scorched the Michigan State goalie, netting four goals on just 20 shots before Lerg was pulled in favor of an empty net.
And with the way this season’s schedule was set up – the Wolverines and Spartans didn’t play each other in the first half of the season – the junior had to wait more than 10 months to exact revenge.
When the opportunity finally presented itself last weekend, Lerg took advantage of it.
Michigan (15-2-1 CCHA, 22-3-1 overall) was shut out for the first time this year in Friday night’s 1-0 loss at Yost Ice Arena. It was the first time the Wolverines haven’t tallied a goal on their home ice since Feb. 23, 2003.
“We played a really smart game,” Lerg said. “We didn’t make any costly turnovers. They’re the type of team that if you give them a little life, they’re going to keep on steamrolling you.”
Although Lerg is listed at just 5 feet 6 inches tall, he was huge in net all night, stopping all 26 Michigan shots. Lerg’s ability to minimize rebound opportunities made him especially effective.
Michigan has excelled this season in finding rebounds off goalies’ pads for easy poke-in chances, but Lerg never hesitated to ice the puck, limiting the Wolverines’ offensive production.
The shutout was the first-ever win at Yost for anyone on the Spartan roster.
“Unbelievable feeling, obviously,” Lerg said. “I struggled here last year, and it’s really nice to get a win here, especially for all the seniors.”
Things didn’t get much easier for the Michigan offense in Saturday night’s 2-2 tie at Munn Ice Arena. The Wolverines tallied a man-advantage goal in the second period, and in the waning minutes, the Spartans suffered an own-goal when junior Matt Schepke batted the puck past Lerg, knotting the game at two.
Lerg’s performance was good enough to win his fourth consecutive CCHA Goalie of the Week award. He’s just the second-ever CCHA player to pocket a Player of the Week honor for an entire month. Ferris State’s Mike Brown won the Defensive Player of the Week award four consecutive times in 2002-03.
Michigan coach Red Berenson wasn’t inclined to give Lerg too much credit for the win. Berenson said the Wolverines’ woes began with poor shot selection and execution on their best scoring chances, which often flew wide of the net or were deflected by the stout Spartan defense.
Senior Kevin Porter’s troubles finding the net were especially apparent. The Hobey Baker hopeful tallied just four total shots on goal in the series. Most of Porter’s attempts hit the glass behind Lerg.
Though Lerg is playing what could be the best hockey of his career, Berenson isn’t ready to put him on a pedestal above his own goalie.
“Lerg’s a good goalie, but I’ll put (Michigan goaltender) Billy Sauer against any goalie in the league,” Berenson said. “He’s going to give us a chance every night, just like Lerg gives them a chance.”
Daily Sports Writer