East Lansing, MI – After building a 2-0 lead heading into the third period, the Minnesota Gophers (14-7-4 Overall (2-0 OT), 6-5-1-3 B1G) collapsed in epic fashion, failing to score on three third-period powerplay chances and giving up three goals (the last one with just 4 seconds remaining) to steal defeat from the jaws of victory against the league-leading Michigan State Spartans (17-5-3 (0-1), 11-1-1-2).
Minnesota controlled nearly the entire game, with Mike Koster scoring on the team’s first shot of the game at 1:28 of the opening period. As has been a common theme this season, the Gophers had a hard time finding the separation goal. Despite a strong advantage in shots and scoring chances, Minnesota was only able to score their second goal of the game late in the second period, an Oliver Moore tally at 18:43 of the middle stanza to increase the Gopher lead to 2-0.
We’ve seen it over and over this year, but Minnesota could not hold the lead in the third period. Griffin Jurecki scored his first goal of the year on an uncontrolled rebound at 2:36 of the third to draw the Spartans within one at 2-1. Minnesota was gifted three powerplay chances in the third period and failed to score on each of them, with Karsen Dorwart scoring shorthanded on a two-on-three “opportunity” at 15:02 to tie the game at 2-2.
Finally, Daniel Russell called game with just four seconds left on a scrum out front that slid through Justen Close’s five-hole to win the game for MSU 3-2.
This was a game that Minnesota did everything except score the insurance goal, and like many times before this year, it came back to bite them with an inability to counter the opposing team’s best punch in the third.
After the game, coach Motzko laid the blame at the hands of the underclassmen, saying “our youth didn’t show up tonight.” Frankly, I’m not sure what game he was watching. A loss like this (which is another datapoint confirming the trend of letdowns and not playing up to the team’s talent level) needs to fall squarely at the feet of leadership. Whether that’s on the coaches, the players with letters on their jerseys, or a combination of the two, this group doesn’t seem to have what it takes to play responsible hockey for 60 full minutes.
Something needs to change if this team wants to make noise in March and (god willing) April. This Minnesota team has the talent to be successful, and is easily good enough to win four games in a row in the NCAA tournament, but the leaders on this team need to step up and start acting like it.