East Lansing, Mich. — Inconsistency was the buzzword swarming Gopher hockey this week as the Gophers had one more chance before break to correct a trend of seesaw series. Minnesota delivered 120 minutes of consistent defense, held Michigan State to just 33 shots on the weekend, earned a pair of 4-2 wins, and their first road sweep of the Spartans since 1978.
The #11 Gophers (9-5-2, 3-1-0-0) got their game winner from Brent Gates Jr., and Jake Bischoff, Rem Pitlick, and Tyler Sheehy also added goals in the win over Michigan State (4-8-1, 0-2-0) in front of 5,420 at Munn Arena.
Minnesota out-shot Michigan State 11-4 during the opening period, but neither team was able to generate any quality chances. However, the Spartans made something out of nothing 16:15 into the first, when Mitch Eliot threw a puck towards goal. The puck was likely going wide until JT Stenglein knocked the puck down and back toward the middle of the ice. Eric Schierhorn went into his butterfly drop and the puck found its way through some traffic and between the goalie’s legs for Stenglein’s second goal of the season and weekend.
The Spartans added to their lead 6:13 into the second period when Joe Cox started Michigan State in transition off a Gopher turnover in the neutral zone. Cox found teammate Thomas Ebbing as the third man joining a 3-on-2 rush, and Ebbing fired the puck over Schierhorn’s glove.
Minnesota kept playing their game despite being down two goals by rolling four lines and six defensemen. A strong forecheck by their fourth line of Taylor Cammarata, Ryan Norman, and Joey Marooney in the second period forced Michigan State into a rushed clearing attempt. Bischoff cleanly intercepted the failed clear, and then picked a spot with a wrist shot for his third goal of the year at 10:03.
The Gopher power play generated plenty of chances during the weekend with 34 shot attempts over eight man advantage opportunities against the struggling Spartan special teams that came into the weekend ranked last among all 60 NCAA teams in penalty killing. Pitlick finally capitalized on one of the opportunities at 13:33 of the second period, converting a Kloos seam pass into his second goal of the season. Minnesota added another power play goal in the third period at 11:14 when Gates showed quick hands in the middle of the slot, and fired a backhander into the upper corner for his sixth goal of the year.
The team’s leading scorer, Sheehy got his 11th of the season on an empty net at 19:23 after Ryan Collins created a turnover along the wall in the defensive zone, and Kloos got the puck across the blue line into the neutral zone.
Schierhorn has been under scrutiny this season, but made 29 saves on 33 shots including a couple big ones with just over four minutes to play when he pushed across to save Patrick Khodorenko’s one timer and then shutting the door on Mason Appleton rebound bid.
Minnesota never had to go into a defensive shell Saturday, like they did in their Saturday third period against North Dakota, and continued to roll their lineup and kept pressure on Michigan State until the end of the game.
The team goes on a winter break from playing games until the 26th annual Mariucci Classic with Mercyhurst, Alabama Huntsville, and Massachusetts on December 30 and 31. Ryan Lindgren was named to USA Hockey National Junior Team preliminary roster that gathers next Friday December 16 in Buffalo. Lindgren is expected to make the final roster for the event in Toronto and Montreal running from December 26 through January 5. Minnesota has another bye week after the Mariucci Classic, before hosting Michigan on January 13 and 14.