Gophers To Take On Big 10 Rival Michigan State This Weekend
After dominating both games against the St. Cloud State Huskies, the Golden Gophers emerged from the weekend with only two points thanks to a 40-save effort by SCSU freshman Ryan Faragher on Friday night. However, after losing 4-3 in St. Cloud in the first game of the series, the Maroon and Gold bounced back in a huge way on Saturday as they drilled the Huskies by a 5-0 score.
In Saturday’s win, sophomore center Nick Bjugstad notched his first career hat trick and now is tied for the nation’s scoring lead with 21 points. He’s second in the country in goals with 13 and right now is as dominant of a Gopher forward as this team has seen in a long time.
Also on Saturday, senior goalie Kent Patterson posted his sixth shutout of the season, and broke Robb Stauber’s all-time single-season shutout record in the process. Patterson has been the team’s MVP through the first two months or so and he’ll give them a chance to win at a high level for the remainder of his final season as a Gopher.
Missed chances and stupid penalties really cost the team on Friday night. The Gophers put at least a half-dozen shots off the glass when they had good scoring chances, so they weren’t clicking on all cylinders offensively. And, much like the loss to Vermont in October, some ill-advised penalties cost the team. Nick Larson, Seth Helgeson, and Seth Ambroz all took un-needed penalties at poor times, and the St. Cloud power play made the Gophers pay via two man-advantage goals.
Ambroz in particular paid the price on Saturday as he was bounced to the fourth line, with Travis Boyd being bumped up to the second line with Jake Hansen and Erik Haula. Sam Warning shifted down to the third line, replacing Ambroz alongside Nate Condon and Taylor Matson. Don Lucia’s line-shuffling paid dividends for at least one night
Now, the Gophers give fans a little preview of what things will be like in a few years when they join the Big Ten Hockey Conference as they head to East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans.
(Side note: thanks to Barry Alvarez and Mike Eaves for killing one of the best weekends of the year, the College Hockey Showcase so they could play another cupcake team at the Kohl Center. Good luck vs. Mercyhurst this weekend.)
Michigan State has mirrored the Gophers a bit in recent years in that the team was very good in the early to mid 2000s, but have fallen on hard times as of late. Long-time head coach Rick Comley is now gone in favor of former CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos.
The Spartans currently sit 7-5-0 and are coming off a split at Northern Michigan. They lost to Boston College is the IceBreaker Tournament to start the season, then were swept at Lake Superior State, split at home vs. Ohio State, swept Robert Morris at home, impressively swept Western Michigan on the road, and then split at the Wildcats last weekend.
The Spartans are an older team, as just five players are under the age of 20. They have ten seniors and seven juniors, so they’ll pose a solid challenge to a younger Gopher team. They have just one Minnesotan on the team, senior defenseman Matt Crandell from St. Cloud.
A pair of sophomore forwards – Lee Reimer and Greg Wolfe – lead the offensive attack for MSU. Reimer has 17 points in 12 games while Wolfe has 12 points. Senior forward Mike Merrifield has missed some time but he has 10 points in eight games. Nationally, the Spartans are 15th in scoring offense, so they should be able to put some pressure on Minnesota’s backend.
MSU has always been known as a defense-first type of team, but right now they are tied for 24th in the nation for scoring defense at 2.67 goals per game. They will certainly be challenged by the Gophers high-powered offense.
The goaltending duties for the Spartans have been split between senior Drew Palmisano and sophomore Will Yanakeff, who has been slightly better and has seven starts to Palmisano’s five. Either way, the Gophers have the clear edge in net with Patterson.
For the Gophers, this series could prove to be very important come the end of the year in terms of PairWise implications, so getting at least one win is very important. They should be able to do just that but they have lost two of their last three on the road, though Munn Arena is far from an intimidating place to play.
Both games start at 6 p.m. CST and will air live on Fox Sports North.