Gophers Beat Spartans 4-2

Minnesota gets production from key players to earn victory over Michigan State

East Lansing, MI – After you speak to Don Lucia enough, you start to learn his coaching philosophies.  One that the Gopher coach frequently utters is that the “big players need to play big.”

Minnesota (8-5-2 Overall, 2-1-0 B1G) definitely had its big players play a big role in the Gophers’ 4-2 road victory against the Michigan State Spartans (4-7-1 Overall, 0-1-0 B1G) Friday night.  The team’s leading point-getter Tyler Sheehy and the captian Justin Kloos each had a goal and an assist to power the team over MSU.

The Gophers have been no stranger to trailing in hockey games this season, having given up the first goal in eight of their 15 contests.  They did the same on Friday, giving up a five-hole goal to MSU’s JT Stenglein, who streaked up the left wing and may have caught Gopher goalie Eric Schierhorn cheating for the pass.  The goal came just 3:30 into the first period and gave the Spartans the early lead.

Minnesota roared back after the goal, getting many quality chances and finally depositing a strange one past MSU’s Ed Minney.  Justin Kloos found a bouncing rebound near the goal line to Minney’s left and fired a puck off of the MSU keeper’s back and into the net to knot it at 1-1.  Tyler Sheehy assisted on the goal.

Sheehy got a goal of his own at 12:26 of the second period – his laser wrist shot from the right circle beat Minney up high and gave the Gophers a lead they’d never relinquish.  Kloos and Zuhlsdorf assisted on the Sheehy snipe, his team-leading 10th of the season.

Vinni Lettieri scored less than two minutes later at 14:19 of the second, when Minney passed the puck right to him in front of the net.  The gaffe gave the Gophers a two-goal lead at 3-1.

Michigan State’s Taro Hirose scored on a beautiful play at 16:57 to claw the Spartans back within one, but despite a well-played and hard-fought third, that’s the closest they would get.

Minnesota kept the pressure up and peppered Minney with shots in the final frame, but the MSU goalie stood tall and kept his team in the game.  The Gophers drew three third-period powerplays and had tons of quality looks on them, but could not extend their lead beyond the 3-2 margin.  The Spartans pulled Minney with just over 90 seconds remaining and gave Minnesota a few scares.  The Gophers’ Darian Romanko was able to win a puck battle along the boards and flip the puck into the empty net to seal the game for Minnesota at 18:59 of the third.  The sophomore stalwart on the fourth line’s goal was his first of the season and first in the Maroon and Gold.

The Gophers fired an outstanding 44 shots on net in the game, compared to just 14 for Michigan State.  In a game as lopsided on offense as that, you’d like to see the team have a more comfortable lead than 3-2 in the dying minutes of the game.  Credit to Minney, who made 40 saves in the losing effort.

Lost in the shuffle was a solid if not scintillating effort from Gopher goalie Schierhorn.  The sophomore netminder made some big saves (just 12 for the entire game, though) down the stretch as MSU was pressing.

The Gophers’ big guns were big as needed in this one, with Kloos and Sheehy racking up multi-point nights.  Sheehy now has 10 goals and 12 assists on the team, and is creeping ever closer to the top 10 scorers in the nation.  Vinni Lettieri goal extended his point streak to five games.  The senior winger has 3G-4A-7P during those five contests.

Minnesota was missing two key forwards on Friday night: Mike Szmatula is still out with an upper-body injury and the team is hopeful he’ll return for the Mariucci Classic.  Connor Reilly also did not travel with the team this weekend – he is expected to be back after the holiday break.

The absences meant that Ryan Norman and Joey Marooney got playing time.  Norman and Marooney played regular minutes on the fourth line.

The two teams will square off again Saturday evening at 8 Eastern Time, with the Gophers looking for just their second sweep of the season.  Just like Friday’s contest, Saturday’s game can be seen on BTN, heard on AM1500 ESPN Radio, or streamed via BTN2Go.

Go Gophers!