3-1, 4-2 Wins Give Minnesota First 6-0 Start Since 01-02
East Lansing, MI – Another weekend, another sweep for the Gopher Men’s Hockey team.
Building upon their 4-0 start with home sweeps of Penn State and Ohio State, the Minnesota Gophers (6-0-0 Overall, 6-0-0 B1G) went into East Lansing and swept the Michigan State Spartans (2-3-1, 1-3-0). The Gophers are the first team in the country to six wins, and the 6-0 start is the team’s first such season-opening win streak since the 2001-2002 season.
Minnesota dominated the first half of Thursday’s game, building a comfortable 3-0 lead through the game’s first 25 minutes on goals by Ben Meyers (PP) at 7:21 of the first, Sampo Ranta at 8:57 of the first, and Scott Reedy (PP) at 4:09 of the 2nd. Despite continued offensive output throughout the rest of the game, the Gophers did not score again. Michigan State made it more interesting with a late-third period goal at 16:18, but could not find the back of the net again in the 3-1 final.
The Gophers again dominated the first period Friday, building a 2-0 lead off of goals by Ben Meyers at 5:03 and Jaxon Nelson at 15:27, but this time the Spartans fought back. Kyle Haskins scored just 19 seconds after Nelson’s goal at 15:46 to draw MSU within 1, and 19-20 2nd-team All Big Ten defenseman Dennis Cesana scored early in the 2nd at 3:50 to tie the game.
The MSU pushback was some of the first adversity that this Gophers team has faced so far this season. Minnesota regained their composure and took the lead for good on a nice Scott Reedy tip-in goal at 14:14 of the second. Sampo Ranta added an empty net goal late in the third to close out the scoring in the 4-2 Gopher win.
Jack LaFontaine again started both games in net for the Gophers. It’s hard to argue with Bob Motzko’s decision to stick with his #1 goaltender, as LaFontaine has been rock solid between the pipes. The senior’s 1.17 GAA is second in the nation amongst goalies that have played more than one game, and his 0.956 Sv% is first using the same critieria.
Goalies are only as good as the defense in front of them, though, and the biggest change in this Gopher team thus far this season is the quality of the defensemen. Minnesota’s D-corps is the best it has been in a long time, with five underclassmen leading the way. Sophomores Jackson LaCombe and Ryan Johnson headline the group, but classmate Matt Staudacher is a gritty, steady complement to the high-octane offensive defensemen, and newcomers Mike Koster and Brock Faber have not shown the traditional freshman defenseman learning curve that so many others have needed to acclimate themselves to the pace of college hockey.
The defensemen have shown themselves more than capable of transitioning the puck from the defensive zone to offense, which is a major contributor to Minnesota’s tremendous shot advantage and goal differential thus far. The Gophers are averaging 3.33 goals per game on 31.2 shots, and are only giving up 1.17 goals on 26.7 shots.
The Gophers have a few days off before traveling to Ann Arbor to battle the Michigan Wolverines Tuesday December 8th and Wednesday December 9th. Tuesday’s game is a 7:30 PM start, while Wednesday’s game is at 5:30. Both games are on the Big Ten Network, streaming on Fox Sports’ website, and can be heard on the normal radio stations (AM 1130, FM 103.5, FM 100.3 HD-2).
Minnesota was without junior defenseman Ben Brinkman and senior forward Brannon McManus in the MSU sweep. Both Gophers were listed as day-to-day with lower body injuries. The status for both players is uncertain for the Michigan series.
Gopher defensemen Ryan Johnson, Jackson LaCombe, and Brock Faber have all been selected to Team USA’s World Junior camp roster. The tournament goes December 20th to January 5th in Edmonton, but the Gopher players (along with Michigan’s Johnny Beecher, Matthew Beniers, Thomas Bordeleau, Brendan Brisson, and Cam York) will likely be unavailable for next week’s series.
Scott Reedy’s five goals is good for T-3rd in the country, while his three powerplay tallies lead the nation.
The last time Minnesota started 6-0-0 was in 2001-2002. That year, they went on to win the NCAA title. The 01-02 team tied their 7th game against Michigan Tech, but did not lose until their 14th game of the season against St. Cloud State on 11/30/2001, going 11-0-2 in their first 13. The 01-02 Gophers finished 32-8-4, claiming 3rd in the WCHA regular season, 2nd in the Final Five, and of course winning the NCAA tournament at the Xcel Energy Center.